Video pitch helps White Sox sign potential cornerstone Luis Robert to loaded farm system

Video pitch helps White Sox sign potential cornerstone Luis Robert to loaded farm system

The White Sox have reportedly already added a first-round draft pick and it isn’t even June.

According to multiple reports, the team’s rebuild added a potential cornerstone as Cuban free agent outfielder Luis Robert has agreed to sign a deal that would force the White Sox to heavily exceed their 2016-17 international signing bonus pool.

Believed to be the equivalent of a high first-round draft pick, Robert, 19, reportedly has accepted a deal worth more than $25 million from the White Sox. Another key addition to the team’s ongoing rebuild, Robert likely would be the No. 3 prospect in an extremely talented White Sox farm system behind Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech.

It is believed that the other team vying for Robert, 19, the St. Louis Cardinals, offered the outfielder more money. 

While Robert’s deal is reportedly worth $25-30 million, the club’s cost will be double whatever the final amount is as they must pay an equivalent tax to Major League Baseball for going over their allotted amount.

White Sox officials didn't comment on the signing on Saturday. But shortly after word got out, the White Sox made a move that signals the Robert deal is close to final. They announced the trade of minor-league pitcher Alex Katz to the Baltimore Orioles for two international signing bonus slots worth $756,300. The move helps the club offset some of the penalty tax they will pay for exceeding their original bonus pool of $2,973,500, according to Baseball America.

By exceeding their pool, the White Sox also would forfeit the ability to sign any international amateurs for more than $300,000 in each of the next two years. But the thinking is that few international players in those upcoming classes would have the same sort of potential impact as quickly as Robert, who is more advanced than normal international prospects.

[MORE: Report - White Sox, Cuban outfielder Luis Robert agree to $25 million deal]

In many cases, international prospects are signed when they’re 16 or 17 years old, which means they still have a growth period left and are harder to project. At 19, Robert already stands at 6-foot-3, 175 pounds. He also is experienced, having played four seasons in the Cuban National Series. Last year, Robert his .401/.526/.687 with 12 home runs and 40 RBIs in 232 plate appearances for Ciego de Avila.

While word of the signing didn’t leak until around 1 p.m. CST, Robert had signaled his intentions in the final hours that he indeed was headed to the White Sox. The prospect changed the avatar on his Instagram account to a new picture with him wearing a White Sox hat.

It is believed that Robert was extremely impressed by the White Sox, who made a presentation to accompany his live workout for the team. General manager Rick Hahn and executive vice president Kenny Williams attended the workout. But the team also presented Robert with a video narrated in Spanish by manager Rick Renteria that included testimonials from fellow Cubans Jose Abreu and Moncada urging Robert to join them in Chicago.

Robert is yet another talented addition to a White Sox farm system that has rocketed up the rankings, according to Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus and MLB Pipeline, among others.

The team added Moncada and Kopech as well as No. 8 prospect Luis Basabe in a 4-for-1 deal for Chris Sale in December. A day later, the White Sox added top prospects Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez as well as Dane Dunning (who is expected to move up the charts) in exchange for Adam Eaton.

The trades netted the White Sox seven prospects and came on the heels of what looks to be a strong 2016 draft class. The White Sox added catcher Zack Collins, reliever Zack Burdi, outfielders Alex Call and Jameson Fisher, and starter Alec Hansen in the first four rounds. Before the December trades, all five were listed among Baseball America’s top-10 White Sox prospect list.

White Sox name Yoan Moncada, Dane Dunning minor leaguers of month

White Sox name Yoan Moncada, Dane Dunning minor leaguers of month

The White Sox named Dane Dunning and Yoan Moncada their minor leaguer pitcher and player of the month on Monday afternoon.

An experienced college pitcher, Dunning tore up the competition at a lower level, which prompted his promotion to Advanced-A Winston-Salem on Friday. The right-hander will make his first turn for Winston-Salem on Tuesday after he posted a 2-0 mark, 0.35 ERA and struck out 33 while walking only two in 26 innings at Single-A Kannapolis.

“He’s got stuff,” MLB.com’s Jim Callis said. “He’s not going light up the gun like (Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez) can. But he’s got a fastball with life and he’s got three pitches. He’s legit. He very well could go from being the third guy in the trade for (Adam) Eaton to the best guy.”

There’s been little doubt about Moncada’s abilities since the White Sox acquired him as part of a four-player package from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for Chris Sale. Moncada played the part in spring training after a slow start and he’s continued to tear it up at Triple-A Charlotte. The second baseman still has a high strikeout at 31.2 percent. But he also has produced at a .314/.385/.500 clip with four home runs, seven RBIs and six stolen bases in 96 plate appearances.

“I’m glad he’s on our team,” Charlotte pitcher Carson Fulmer recently said.

Starting to blossom: White Sox prospect Dane Dunning flourishes behind attacking style

Starting to blossom: White Sox prospect Dane Dunning flourishes behind attacking style

Dane Dunning has begun to cast aside the doubts of some observers who wondered when he was drafted last June if he’s a starting pitcher or a reliever.

The White Sox felt pretty certain Dunning -- the team’s No. 10 prospect according to MLBPipeline.com -- would start even though he pitched out of the bullpen more often in three seasons at the University of Florida. They were absolutely thrilled when they were able to include the Washington Nationals’ 2016 first-round draft pick along with pitchers Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez in the return for Adam Eaton.

Through four starts at Single-A Kannapolis, Dunning has only strengthened the club’s assertion with a scorching hot start that could likely soon lead to a promotion. After six more scoreless innings and seven strikeouts on Wednesday, Dunning is 2-0 with a 0.35 ERA.

“I talked to scouts who really think Giolito and Lopez are relievers and at the time of the trade thought ‘Don’t be surprised if Dunning is the best starting pitcher of those three guys in the long run,’” said MLB.com’s Jim Callis. “He’s got stuff. He’s not going to light up the gun like those guys can. But he’s got a fastball with life and he’s got three pitches. He’s legit. He very well could go from being the third guy in the trade for Eaton to the best guy.”

The only thing that has slowed down Dunning this month is the weather. Originally scheduled to start Sunday, Dunning’s fourth turn was wiped out by rain for three consecutive days. The layoff could explain Dunning’s -- ahem -- rust on Wednesday morning when he threw only 58 of 88 pitches (66 percent) for strikes and limited Hagerstown to two hits and a walk while striking out seven.

All Dunning has done is fill up the strike zone this season. He has thrown strikes on 246 of 354 pitches (69.5 percent). Through 26 innings, Dunning has allowed two runs (one earned), 13 hits and two walks with 33 strikeouts.

“He really commands the fastball well to both sides,” Kannapolis catcher Seby Zavala said. “He doesn’t get behind too many hitters. He attacks with the fastball. And if you can locate that fastball, you’re going to do pretty well, especially at this level.”

Dunning is hopeful his attacking style would work at every level. As he noted, Hall of Fame hitters are successful only three out of 10 times.

“The odds are in my favor 70 percent of the time,” Dunning said. “I’m OK with those odds.

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“Big leaguers, they miss down the middle at times and they get away with it. They miss up at times and they get away with it. Baseball is a game of failure. A hitter’s going to fail seven out of 10 times. Once you realize those odds, you just pound strikes and if you’re able to locate it, that helps in your favor.”

Despite his approach, many observers weren’t sure if Dunning would start as a pro. A reliever his freshman season at Florida, Dunning made 14 starts in his second year before mostly pitching in relief as a junior. He had the burden of pitching in a Gators rotation that included fellow first-round pick A.J. Puk and second-rounder Logan Shore.

“If I went to really any other SEC school I would have been a Friday night starter,” Dunning said. “But on the other hand, it humbled me a bunch and I learned a lot by starting and going out of the ‘pen.”

Still, Dunning faced a bunch of interview questions during the draft process about whether he wanted to start or relieve. An American League scout who took in Dunning’s April 18 outing at Asheville doesn’t think Florida knew what it had in Dunning, who posted a 3.32 ERA and struck out 170 in 160 collegiate innings.

But amateur scouting director Nick Hostetler said the White Sox suspected Dunning would start all along. Hostetler attended one of Dunning’s five starts in 2016 and liked the combination of the right-hander’s 6-foot-3, 190-pound frame and his stuff. The White Sox nearly selected Dunning with the 26th pick in the draft but instead grabbed reliever Zack Burdi as they believed they might need a big arm out of the bullpen in the majors later that season. Washington took Dunning 29th overall.

“He showed three pitches, the ability to command all three pitches, physical build, strength,” Hostetler said. “And when he did start last year he showed the ability to go deeper into games. He maintained his stuff through it. And I felt with not only the physical size, but the stuff, that was going to translate and he was going to start.

“He’s pretty aggressive, he’s always been that way. He’s a pretty dialed in kid. He’s in the game, the whole game. There’s no distracting him. He kind of looks like what we expected him to be.”

Though he is more comfortable in the five-day routine for starters, Dunning jokes that he gets jealous of position players being on the field every day. Still, he doesn’t find the uncertainty that comes with relieving as appealing but appreciates the experience. Dunning knows that experience could supply him with a fallback plan. But if he’s given the choice, Dunning prefers to be a starting pitcher.

“I can get in more of a groove,” Dunning said. “Mainly, it’s just to help the team get wins and that’s my ultimate goal out there if I’m starting or coming out of the bullpen. If I’m starting, just put on a good performance for my team, get the game going. If I’m coming out of the ‘pen, it’s hold the lead and get my team W’s.”