In recent years, the Cuban market has brought an influx of high-end talent to Major League Baseball. Along with that talent comes enormous pay days for those defecting from the island. The most recent player to reap the benefits is 20-year-old Luis Robert.
The Chicago White Sox landed the outfielder with a $26 million signing bonus in the spring of 2017. He was ranked the number one international free agent by MLB Pipeline at the time of his signing. Due to tax and overage penalties, the White Sox had to pay a 100% fee, totaling the financial commitment to a whopping $52 million.
Robert’s signing is not the first time the Sox took a gamble on a Cuban defector. In recent years, they’ve signed Alexei Ramirez, Jose Abreu, and traded for Yoan Moncada.
Luis Robert is a physical specimen, standing at 6’3′ and weighing in at 185 pounds. He has a lean, athletic frame, and moves well for a player of his size. He has great bat speed and plus raw power with the potential for more as he ages and fills out his body.
Robert has done nothing but perform at every level in his homeland, having played in Cuba’s top league since the age of 15. He is a career .314 hitter over his 4 season stint with Ciego de Avila. His best season coming in his age-18 campaign, where he slashed .401/.526/.687, with 12 home runs, 11 stolen bases, and more walks than strikeouts (38 BB/30 K) in just 53 games. He did that at an age 11 years younger than the average competition.
He debuted for the White Sox in the Dominican Summer League at age 19. Injuries shortened his season to just 28 games, but he showed why he is so highly-touted. He hit .310/.491/.536 while swiping 12 bases, and walked 23 times in just 28 games while patrolling center field.
Robert will come stateside for 2018, most likely starting in A-ball, and should be on the fast track to the majors. He is already a consensus top 100 prospect in baseball by all major outlets. Robert was ranked #58 by Baseball America, #28 by MLB.com, and #46 by Keith Law from ESPN (subscription required).
While the future seems very bright for Luis Robert, he will have his work cut out for him. It hasn’t been all glitz and glamour for his fellow Cuban defectors. We have seen many succeed in the likes of Jose Abreu, Yasiel Puig, Yoenis Cespedes, Kendrys Morales, Aroldis Chapman, Yuli Gurriel, and Rasiel Iglesias, among others.
But others have struggled after receiving large contracts, such as Rusney Castillo ($72.5M), Erisbel Arruebarrena ($25M), Yasmany Tomas ($68.5M), Alex Guerrero ($25M), Hector Olivera ($62.5M), Jorge Soler ($30M), and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez ($12M). For every success story, you can just as easily find a failure.
However, with Robert’s athletic ability and physical tools, it looks promising that he will deliver on his potential, and continue the tradition of landing Cuban phenoms on the South Side.