The White Sox potentially could add another significant piece to their farm system next month after Luis Robert was officially cleared for free agency on Thursday.
The Cuban outfielder can be signed as soon as May 20 after Major League Baseball cleared him to become a free agent as part of the 2016-17 international class.
Though the White Sox have made no official comments, its believed the team intends to make a strong push for Robert’s services. While the White Sox selected three position players high in the 2016 draft and added two more in December trades, they need more talent to achieve what general manager Rick Hahn has described as a “critical mass.” Some observers believe that Robert, 19, would be a viable candidate to be the first overall pick in the amateur baseball draft were he eligible.
One rival evaluator recently said the White Sox are strong contenders for Robert. Baseball America also has linked the White Sox to Robert often the past few months.
Robert’s addition to the 2016-17 class means he can be signed under the rules of the old Collective Bargaining Agreement, which should result in a significantly better payday.
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Back in March, BA’s Ben Badler described Robert as having “a strong, lean frame at 6-foot-3 with broad shoulders, a wide back and quick-twitch athleticism. A right-handed hitter with excellent bat speed and a sound swing, Robert has plus power with room to continue filling out and increase that in the future.” Because he’s 19, Robert is at an advantage over younger international prospects in that he’s physically easier to project than some of his 15- and 16-year-old counterparts.
That Robert is extremely talented and projectable could result in a shootout between teams bidding for Robert’s services without facing some of the harsher penalties that they would have had he instead been part of the 2017-18 class.
Under the rules of the old CBA, teams only pay a luxury tax for exceeding their allotted bonus pool. Current White Sox prospect Yoan Moncada was signed for $31.5 million under the rules of the old CBA by the Boston Red Sox in March 2015. The Red Sox also paid a $31.5 million tax as part of the signing.
The White Sox have revamped their farm system over the past 10 months. All but one of their top 10 prospects according to MLB.com have been drafted or acquired in trades. But of those 10, only Moncada, Luis Alexander Basabe and Zack Collins are position players. The team also selected outfielders Alex Call and Jameson Fisher with their third- and fourth-round selections in the draft.
The addition of Robert could have the White Sox well on their way in what Hahn has said will be a long and, at times, painful rebuilding process.