The Padres are about to enter the precarious part of their rebuild. They’ve already infused the lower levels of their minor league system with talent thanks to the splurge on international talent during this J2 signing period. The thing is, that was a one time shot. The Padres took full advantage of the strategy and MLB rules, but due to penalties and Ron Fowler’s efforts to change the international signing system, the strategy is not repeatable. The Padres will enter into two full years of not being able to sign an international player for more than $300k and international signings are now hard capped in the new collective bargaining agreement, taking away the opportunity to outspend opposing teams. There will not be anymore splurges, and now the Padres must nail the more traditional methods like capitalizing on the amateur draft and free agency. It’s certainly within the realm of possibility that they do this, but it’s important to recognize that they are now playing on a level playing field rather than one that, thanks to AJ Preller’s innovative international strategy, was tipped in the Padres’ favor. The only competitive advantage in the amateur draft is good ol’ scouting, and it remains to be seen if the Padres hold any advantage in that area.
Enter Luis Robert. Robert is the last marquee international player to hit the market before the new hard capped CBA rules kick in. This means that his potential earnings could be slashed to a fraction of what they would be today if he waits until after June to sign. Major League Baseball has freed him to sign on May 20, and he will undoubtedly be signed before this J2 period ends. Robert is the last chance to maximize the strategy the Padres have already undertaken to slash Major League payroll to fund signing as many international amateurs as possible. It is the last chance to exercise a demonstrated real competitive advantage, as the team is already facing punitive measures for the next two years. Simply put, there’s nothing to lose except money.
First, let’s see why he’s so coveted. Here’s what Baseball America had to say about him:
Robert has the talent of a first-round pick if he were in the draft. After he signs, he should be ready for an assignment to a low or high Class A affiliate. He has a strong, lean frame at 6-foot-3 with broad shoulders, a wide back and quick-twitch athleticism. A righthanded 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.
A first-round pick ready for high-A off the bat? Sign me up. Eric Longenhagen at Fangraphs noted his pitch selectivity during his Can-Am tour last summer. He recognized Robert’s speed, and guessed he’d wind up in a corner outfield position. On the East Village Times podcast last week, Longenhagen pointed out that Robert had gained a lot of weight immediately after leaving Cuba, but was now in great shape, even “ripped”. Robert is 19, and being at high-A at his age puts him into elite company. Only 1% to 2% of high-A players are 19 or younger, and foretells a higher likelihood of Major League success. Additionally, prospect writers are saying Robert would slot in immediately, at the very least, in the top 50 prospects, which would be worth roughly $38.2M in surplus value. Longenhagen recently said that Robert is “the best non-Otani prospect available internationally” and “a potential impact bat”. He’s a big, strong kid with power, speed and plate discipline whose skills are mature enough to play in high-A. I’m salivating.
Here’s Robert at a Dominican batting practice:
And here’s Robert at his private workout at the Padres’ facility in the Dominican Republic:
Tomorrow we’ll dig into the financials surrounding a potential Luis Robert signing.