Luis Robert strolled into the White Sox’ clubhouse Saturday, toured the field and facilities, then signed a minor-league contract that included a $26 million bonus.
And so marked the end of a five-year pursuit of the coveted Cuban prospect, the latest — and perhaps greatest — piece of the Sox’ rebuilding effort to date.
Robert is 19 and newly rich and famous, but few knew how to even pronounce his name.
“In Cuba, people call me more like ‘Roh-bér,’ ” Robert said. “Outside people [pronounce the last letter]. But in Cuba, it’s ‘Roh-bér.’ ”
Even manager Rick Renteria didn’t seem sure what the correct pronunciation was before the doubleheader, but he astutely pointed out that it wouldn’t matter.
“If they call his name out in the big leagues,” Renteria said, “he’s not really going to care how people pronounce his name.”
Robert, who said he prefers the Cuban pronunciation of “Roh-bér,” is a 6-2, 210-pound outfielder whom general manager Rick Hahn projects to be a middle-of-the-order, middle-of-the-field player. He bats and throws right-handed and hit .401 with 12 doubles, two triples, 12 home runs, 40 RBI and 11 stolen bases in 53 games last year with Ciego de Avila in the Cuban national league.
Sox director of international scouting Marco Paddy first discovered Robert just before the teenager’s 15th birthday. He said Robert’s body, athleticism and skill were impressive to him at the time and have only improved with age.
The Sox put together a full suite of digital resources to attract Robert during what was a competitive process around the league.
Robert and his family received two iPads from the Sox with a video, PowerPoint deck and virtual-reality tour of the club’s facilities. The video included Sox history and messages directly to Robert from fellow Cubans Yoan Moncada and Jose Abreu, among others. Renteria served as the video’s narrator.
The virtual-reality tour, which ran roughly two minutes, featured the clubhouse, the field and batting practice and included public-address announcer Gene Honda announcing’s Robert’s name.
“The virtual-reality thing was nothing we had ever done before,” Hahn said. “We’ve done PowerPoint presentations to other free agents who may not be familiar with the organization. But this was certainly next level for us.”
A reminder of the tradition of Cuban players coming to the Sox was on display during the introductory news conference. Hahn and Robert were flanked on both sides by large posters of Minnie Minoso, Alexei Ramirez, Abreu and Moncada.
Hahn said Abreu takes a great deal of pride in playing a mentor role on the team, and it was Abreu who led Robert out onto the field for the first time.
“The White Sox’ tradition for Cuban players was something that motivated me to sign with this team,” said Robert, who added that the Sox also scouted him the most. “It’s something that made me feel comfortable.”
Hahn said the Sox were prepared to be aggressive with their $26 million offer to Robert and will end up paying a similar amount in taxes.
“Being able to acquire a premium talent at the cost of — Jerry [Reinsdorf] should cover his ears — only money,” Hahn said, “made the most sense for the organization.”
Robert hasn’t played a game in 11 months and will return to the Dominican Republic to begin his development. He’ll join the Sox’ Dominican Summer League team in the coming weeks, Hahn said.
The Sox plan to be patient with Robert’s development and have put no timetable on his arrival to the majors.
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