White Sox

White Sox courting of Luis Robert leads to 'Christmas in May'

White Sox courting of Luis Robert leads to 'Christmas in May'

When he learned last November that elite talent Luis Robert could be available by June 15, Marco Paddy didn’t hold back: It was time for the White Sox make their move.

Much like with Yoan Moncada before, the team’s international scouting director had an extensive history scouting Robert, who on Saturday signed with the White Sox after he received a $26 million signing bonus. After watching him for five years, Paddy believed in Robert enough to recommend the White Sox pay several severe penalties to sign a player the franchise thinks could be an everyday center fielder with power.

By signing Robert, 19, the White Sox must not only pay a luxury tax of almost equal value to the bonus, but they’re also unable to sign any international prospect for more than $300,000 in each of the next two classes. But given the limited competition and the unique talent he saw, Paddy let the White Sox know Robert -- the No. 26-ranked prospect, according to MLBPipeline.com -- was a player they couldn’t afford to bypass. Thus begun the team’s courtship, one the Cuban cited as having a major impact on his desire to sign with the White Sox. Now, the White Sox not only have Moncada after trading for him in December, but they also have another potential cornerstone to build around.

“From the beginning we were very serious about it,” Paddy said. “Knowing we weren’t going to have 29 other clubs competing against us was a good thing for us because we knew our competition pool was a lot smaller. We went in it with everything we had and if we missed out on some guys that’s fine, that’s the risk you take.

“It’s a dream come true to be honest with you, having those guys with that kind of ability together. There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done. But I saw Moncada about the same age I saw Robert and it’s like Christmas in May.”

The pursuit of Robert -- a player general manager Rick Hahn describes as a “dynamic, potential talent” -- began in December at the winter meetings at National Harbor, Md. Having learned that Robert would potentially be a late addition to the 2016-17 international class, Paddy asked for a meeting with Hahn, executive vice president Kenny Williams and chairman Jerry Reinsdorf. Paddy and Hahn had previously held several similar state-of-the-international-picture meetings to determine when to make a splash on the market.

This one was different.

“Marco approached us and said, ‘This is the guy,’ ” Hahn said.

It was still a “what if” proposition because Robert not only had to establish residency, but he also had to receive clearance from Major League Baseball to be part of the 2016-17 class, a critical factor. Under the old Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams could spend whatever they wanted on a player as long as they paid a luxury tax. But under the new CBA, teams are limited to a maximum of $5.25 million for bonuses.

While the White Sox felt Paddy’s familiarity with Robert would give them a chance if he wasn’t eligible until July 2 (the next class), they knew they’d compete against fewer teams for his services under the old rules. Hahn said back in March the White Sox intended to be a player either way. On Saturday, he said it was Paddy’s initial determination that spurred him into action.

“Marco personally was willing to suffer the penalties that it has on his world for the betterment of the organization,” Hahn said. “Marco’s evaluation and presence and willingness to sacrifice potential future signings for this reinforced the notion that this was the right move to make.”

Then everyone else got involved and the White Sox went overboard to recruit Robert.

If Saturday’s pregame presentation is any indication, the White Sox pulled out all the stops.

As Robert was introduced for his press conference, he sat in front of banners featuring current and former White Sox from Cuba, including Alexei Ramirez, Minnie Minoso, Jose Abreu and Moncada.

Once he was on the field to throw out the first pitch, the team played a short video on the scoreboard with numerous White Sox fans welcoming Robert to Chicago that had been filmed Friday night. As Robert trotted to the mound to throw his pitch to Abreu, team employees stood atop the home dugout with a sign that read “bienvenidos” and drawings of Cuban flags.

But the post-signing efforts were nothing compared to the team’s full-court press of Robert last month.

[MORE: Luis Robert will start journey through White Sox organization in Dominican Summer League]

Hahn and Williams brought several showstoppers with them when they traveled to the Dominican Republic for a private workout with Robert last month. Included were a power point production and an iPad with a video presentation that the White Sox communications department put together in six days, Hahn said. Manager Rick Renteria narrated the short video in Spanish and it included personal messages for Robert from Abreu, Moncada and Michael Ynoa, who shares the same trainer (Edgar Mercedes) and worked out with Robert in the offseason.

“It was a beautiful video,” Robert said through an interpreter. “The part (that stood out) the most was when Ricky Renteria was talking straight to me, saying they need me here to win several championships.”

But more than the video, Robert said the desire displayed by the White Sox made his decision easy. Hahn said the White Sox felt confident heading into the final 24 hours that they were in the lead for Robert. Not only had they bid aggressively, Hahn thought the White Sox made a strong pitch. That feeling only increased last Saturday morning when Robert changed his Instagram avatar to a picture of him wearing a White Sox cap.

“The video helps a lot, but the thing that made me make a decision was who was the team that showed more interest,” Robert said. “That was something that made me feel good.”

Paddy had seen enough in five years to feel confident in pushing the White Sox to be a player for Robert.

He first scouted Robert at the under-15 Pan American Championships in 2012 in Chihuahua, Mexico. Paddy’s interest in the 6-foot-3, 175-pound center fielder only grew as Robert matured physically. Paddy suspected that once Hahn and Williams would be on board once they saw the passion with which Robert played.

Robert described himself on Saturday as player who likes to fight and “give all that I have for my team.” Paddy said it wasn’t a difficult call to push Hahn when he considered the player’s tools and makeup, as well as the last opportunity to spend big on an international talent.

“You put all those things together, it becomes easy,” Paddy said. “As I watched him over the years grow, get stronger and get better, it became evident to me that if we had an opportunity to sign this guy, it would be a good thing for the organization.

“The level of ability, the tools that I saw that he had, and the past and now present, it’s something you don’t see every day.”

MLB The Show: White Sox take down Blue Jays behind Dallas Keuchel

MLB The Show: White Sox take down Blue Jays behind Dallas Keuchel

NBC Sports Chicago is simulating the 2020 White Sox season via MLB The Show during the postponement of play. The White Sox, stocked with young talent and veteran offseason acquisitions, were expected to take a big step forward in their rebuild this season. Follow along as we play out the first few months of the season.

Result: White Sox def. Blue Jays 7-1
Record: 51-36 this season, first in AL Central (3 games ahead of Twins)

W: Dallas Keuchel (5-5)
L: Hyun-Jin Ryu (9-4)

Game summary: The South Siders continued their three-game set vs the Blue Jays north of the border on Wednesday. And just like Canadian summers, their bats took a little longer than normal to warm up in this game.

Fortunately for the White Sox, they didn’t need a lot of runs early as Dallas Keuchel had his entire repertoire working. The veteran lefty, a frequent sore spot in the rotation this season, went eight innings while allowing just one run and striking out five batters. Sporting an ERA above 7 at times this year, Keuchel is now sitting at 5.90.

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After just scoring just two runs through the first seven frames, the White Sox offense broke out in the eighth. Tim Anderson emerged from his power slump in a big way, hitting a three-run bomb to left. Then, Nomar Mazara also went deep, slugging his 17th homer of the season.

The White Sox winning streak is now at three games, the same total they lead the AL Central by as All-Star weekend approaches.

White Sox lineup:

Edwin Encarnacion: 0-4 (.311 BA)
Eloy Jimenez: 1-4, 2B (.251 BA)
Yoan Moncada: 1-5, HR (23), RBI, R (.278 BA)
Yasmani Grandal: 1-3, 2 BB, R (.309 BA)
Jose Abreu: 3-5, 2 2B, 2 R (.311 BA)
Tim Anderson: 1-5, HR (15), 3 RBI, R (.275 BA)
Luis Robert: 1-5, R (.256 BA)
Nick Madrigal: 1-3 (.283 BA)
Nomar Mazara: 2-4, HR (17), 2 RBI, R (.257 BA)

Scoring summary:

Top first

Yoan Moncada homered to left field. 1-0 CHW.

Top fourth

Nomar Mazara singled to left field, Luis Robert scored. 2-0 CHW.

Bottom fifth

Bo Bichette homered to left field. 2-1 CHW.

Top eighth

Tim Anderson homered to left field, Yasmani Grandal and Jose Abreu scored. 5-1 CHW.
Mazara homered to right field. 6-1 CHW.

Top ninth

Anderson reached on throwing error, Abreu scored. 7-1 CHW.

Notable performance: Mazara is the human embodiment of the saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Despite being in the nine-hole, Mazara has hit 16 homers and is ninh in the AL with 63 RBIs. There's no reason to move him elsewhere in the lineup.

Next game: Thursday, July 2 - Game 88: White Sox at Blue Jays (Dylan Cease, 4-4, 5.40 ERA vs Ryan Borucki, 6-4, 5.11 ERA)

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Yoan Moncada: White Sox still on track for success in 2020, even after layoff

Yoan Moncada: White Sox still on track for success in 2020, even after layoff

It's been a bit of a deflating experience for White Sox fans over the past few months. They were ready for their team to finally ascend into the realm of baseball's contenders, only for the COVID-19 pandemic to put those plans on hold.

The most anticipated season of White Sox baseball in years wasn't happening.

Well, it's kind of happening now, albeit in a squeezed-down, 60-game version that has some fans already bemoaning the 2020 campaign's illegitimacy before it starts.

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But White Sox fans who had the wind taken out of their sails shouldn't be so down in the dumps. Even after a three-month layoff and staring at a two-month sprint to the postseason, the White Sox seem to be in as good a position as they were back in March to make their jump out of rebuilding mode and into contending mode.

Though so much has changed in baseball and around the world in the last few months, that one aspect of the White Sox outlook for the 2020 season has not, according to one of the team's best players.

"I think that each one of us has been working out, has been doing what they are supposed to be doing in order to get ready for the season," Yoan Moncada said through team interpreter Billy Russo on Wednesday. "If that's the case, and I truly believe that’s the case, we are going to be ready, when the season starts, to compete right away. I think there’s not going to be any major difference."

Indeed, there's reason to believe that the White Sox are positioned quite well to compete for an AL Central title and reach the postseason, much like there was back in March. The young core of Moncada, Tim Anderson, Eloy Jimenez and Lucas Giolito were excellent in 2019, especially toward the end of the season. The front office added numerous impact veterans with winning experience during the offseason. And Luis Robert is a much-hyped prospect who could provide a huge boost to the lineup right away.

And the layoff has even allowed for some improvements to the roster, at least on paper, with a pitching staff deepened by the potential full-season additions of recovered arms Michael Kopech, Carlos Rodon and Dane Dunning.

While the White Sox have their fair share of questions — look to that same pitching staff, where it's unknown what kind of results the team will get from Dylan Cease and Reynaldo Lopez — they could wind up the most balanced of the three non-rebuilding teams in the Central. The defending-champion Minnesota Twins have a powerful lineup that now includes perennial MVP candidate Josh Donaldson, but their pitching staff past ace Jose Berrios needs to prove its dependability. The Cleveland Indians, on the other hand, have arguably the best starting rotation in baseball, but their lineup is top heavy with major questions past Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez.

Moncada is of the mindset that to be the champs, you've got to beat the champs.

"I see ourselves in a very good position to compete in this division," he said. "I think that the team to beat is the Minnesota Twins. But I think we have a very good team to compete against them."

RELATED: White Sox not adjusting high hopes for 2020: 'I'm still extremely optimistic'

The third baseman doesn't seem to be alone in his thinking that the White Sox are still in a good position to reach the high expectations they put on themselves during the spring, when everyone at Camelback Ranch was talking about snapping the franchise's more than decade-long playoff drought. Team brass was sticking to those high hopes last week.

“I’m still extremely optimistic,” manager Rick Renteria said. “We come in with the same mindset, to build on what we were building when we were cut off in the spring. And I continue to be optimistic about how positively we can roll forward.”

Obviously this is a season unlike any other, and no one truly knows what will happen when the games start being played — including how many of those games the COVID-19 pandemic will allow Major League Baseball to complete. A fast start will be important to the White Sox and every other team looking to sprint to the regular season's finish line.

Some more good news, at least for Moncada? This is a season in which he doesn't have to worry about battling Chicago's frigid April and May conditions.

"I don't like cold weather," he said. "I think starting the season in this kind of weather is going to be an advantage for all of us. I think we're going to feel much more comfortable, and for me, I think I'm going to feel like I'm playing in Cuba because this is the kind of weather we're used to in Cuba. It's going to be comfortable for us."

White Sox fans have reason to believe they could be very comfortable with their team's fortunes, even after a three-month layoff.


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