White Sox sign Cuban OF prospect Robert

Teen is top-ranked international amateur player

White Sox sign Cuban OF prospect Robert

CHICAGO -- A few formalities needed to take place Saturday morning at the Guaranteed Rate Field Conference and Learning Center before Luis Robert officially could become a member of the White Sox.

With chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and executive vice president Ken Williams among many from the organization looking on, the 19-year-old Robert sat next to general manager Rick Hahn and signed his first professional contract. It was a Minor League deal for the 6-foot-3, 205-pound outfielder, including a $26 million signing bonus.

Robert received his first White Sox jersey, then signed a jersey and a baseball for his first official autographs. The young Cuban is the No. 1 international free agent, according to MLBPipeline.com, and he will be yet another important piece in the club's ongoing rebuilding effort.

"I feel good, very good," Robert said through interpreter Billy Russo. "I'm happy and I'm proud to be part of the White Sox organization. I feel good because all the sacrifices I've had to do to leave Cuba have already paid off. This is what I wanted."

"In adding Luis to our organization, we feel we've added another dynamic potential talent," Hahn said. "Luis, who we view having the potential to be an impact center fielder for the long term, provides a special combination of power and speed that's unique in this game to get today, and he instantly becomes one of our top position-player prospects and one of the top outfield prospects in the game."

White Sox execs thrilled to add Robert

While 10 of the top 11 White Sox prospects have been acquired via trade or through the 2016 MLB Draft, Robert marks the first significant financial investment during the process. It is the second-highest bonus for an international amateur under the current signing guidelines. Yoan Moncada, Robert's Cuban countryman and now teammate within the White Sox organization, set the record through his $31.5 million deal with the Red Sox in 2015.

This signing continues the franchise's long and storied Cuban connection, including the great Minnie Minoso, pitchers Jose Contreras and Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez from the 2005 World Series champions, shortstop Alexei Ramirez, outfielder Dayan Viciedo and current first baseman Jose Abreu.

White Sox Cuban heritage

Abreu agreed to terms on a six-year, $68 million deal prior to the 2014 campaign, although he opted into arbitration prior to the '17 season and is currently earning $10.825 million. Abreu mentored and befriended Moncada during Spring Training, and he figures to do the same along the way with Robert.

"It was certainly part of our identity that we presented to him to help inform him about where we were and the level of success that we've had with similar type players," Hahn said. "It was the talent that drew us to Luis, not the heritage, obviously. We certainly felt we had a good nurturing developmental environment for a player with his background."

"I feel comfortable with this team, with the people that I met with," Robert said. "I picked the Chicago White Sox because it was the team that scouted me most."

Robert's ceremonial first pitch

A video also was put together by the White Sox for Robert with messages from Abreu, manager Rick Renteria and reliever Michael Ynoa, who shares an offseason physical trainer with Robert. The presentation included a virtual reality tour around the stadium, but one message from Renteria stood out in particular.

"Ricky Renteria was talking straight to me, saying they need me here to win several championships," Robert said.

If things pan out in the next few years, the White Sox could feature up-the-middle strength of Zack Collins at catcher, Moncada at second, Tim Anderson at shortstop and Robert in center. Robert enters MLBPipeline's Top 100 prospects at No. 26 and checks in at No. 3 for the White Sox.

His White Sox career begins this summer as part of the Dominican Summer League team.

"Being able to acquire a premium talent at the cost of -- Jerry should plug his ears -- only money made the most sense for the organization," Hahn said. "Jerry got that from the start, and Kenny advocated for it. We were all on the same page. … This really was an important step for us and one we were able to find a way to afford."

Scott Merkin has covered the White Sox for MLB.com since 2003. Read his blog, Merk's Works, follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin, on Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.