LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla.--White Sox manager Rick Renteria saw Luis Robert play for the first time at the White Sox's Dominican instructional league this offseason.
It was just a four-game look, but that was enough for Robert, the 20-year-old Cuban outfielder who signed for $26 million, to leave a big impression on his potential future manager.
"He’s a pretty impressive specimen," Renteria said. "Listen, this kid can fly. I saw him run down to first, I think it was like 3.56 (seconds), after a full swing on a ground ball. He ran down a ball in center, right-center field effortlessly. He hit a ball against the wind and a gust in center, left-center field that I thought had no chance and it ended up going over the trees."
Robert left Cuba in January and signed with the White Sox in May. He was one of the stars of Serie Nacional while in Cuba, hitting .401/.526/.687 as an 18-year-old for Ciego de Avila, and was considered the top available international prospect after he left. Robert hit .310/.491/.536 with the White Sox's Dominican Summer League affiliate after he signed, and is expected to make his United States debut in 2018.
"I think that for him right now it’s just a matter of getting himself to the States, starting to play against other competition, start to get a feel for what’s going on here," Renteria said. "The level of play that he’s going to be hopefully participating in this coming summer, see where he can chip away at what he needs to improve upon. He’s still a young, very young player. I’m sure there are a lot of aspects of his game that he’s going to have to improve upon."
SHAW THE SOLUTION?
The Giants tried to solve their power problem by acquiring Giancarlo Stanton in advance of the Winter Meetings.
After Stanton exercised his no-trade clause to block the deal to San Francisco and joined the Yankees instead, the Giants are now looking inward for a solution.
Manager Bruce Bochy said on Tuesday he expects No. 2 prospect Chris Shaw to play a role for the Giants next season, particularly after Shaw hit 24 homers and slugged .525 across Double-A and Triple-A in 2017.
"He's intriguing," Bochy said. "We've played him at first and left field this year trying to keep our options open, but he's a heart of the order type bat. Maybe next year, with the power. I look forward to watching him in spring training."
Shaw, 24, has a long power resume. He led the Northwest League in homers in his pro debut after the Giants made him their first-round pick in 2015, delivered back-to-back 20 home run seasons in 2016-17, and has a career .511 slugging percentage.
With Brandon Belt penciled in at first base, Shaw began playing left field last year and is still a work in progress after moving from first base. That ongoing defensive development is part of the reason Bochy said he doesn't necessarily expect Shaw to be on the Opening Day roster, but he has no doubt Shaw's power will get him to AT&T Park sooner rather than later.
"I see him probably getting some more playing time (in Triple-A), particularly on the defensive side," Bochy said. "But this guy, we feel, is a major league bat, so I look forward to seeing him.”
ROBERTS SEES VERDUGO GROW
Alex Verdugo has long earned plaudits for his talent and criticism for his maturity and effort level. Those criticisms were reinforced after Verdugo showed up late for a game against the Nationals after he was called up in September, an event made particularly memorable by veteran pitcher Rich Hill dressing down Verdugo in the locker room after his tardy arrival.
But over the remainder of Verdugo's first stint in the majors, manager Dave Roberts said he felt Verudgo made strides, to the point he even came away impressed with the Dodgers' No. 2 prospect.
"I’ve seen him grow tremendously," Roberts said. "He’s a young player. So there’s some kind of judgment things that there’s been some maybe lapses in judgment, but his character, work ethic has never been in question. He’s really grown."
Verdugo, 21, made just 25 plate appearances in his big league debut before heading back to Arizona when the Dodgers postseason run began.
Roberts, based on what he saw, is optimistic that first month of big league experience will shape Verdugo moving forward.
"Being around in September, seeing guys prepare each day, establishing some relationships with the major league players, coaches, I enjoyed having him around," Roberts said. "Sometimes in games I found him next to me more than I did his teammates. I enjoyed kind of keeping him engaged and (with) our bench coach Bob Geren. He’s going to be a good player for a long time."
ATHLETICS TURN TO YOUNG ARMS
Athletics manager Bob Melvin pointed to the stable of young arms the A's are building as his biggest source of hope moving into 2018. The A's have seven starters age 27 or younger, as well as a growing group of prospects in the minor leagues Melvin highlighted.
"We have some depth there too, and we have some guys coming," Melvin said. "We feel like Sean Manaea is going to be better. Kendall (Graveman) has a chance to improve. Jharel Cotton. Daniel Mengden was terrific. Paul Blackburn coming off his injury, he’ll be good for us too.
"Then you have guys like A.J. Puk, Logan Shore, (James) Kaprielian who we got that’s coming... We have (Daulton) Jefferies too. We had a really good draft last year. So the guys that are here now, we’re comfortable with, and we feel like we can hold down the fort for the next group of guys that were part of last year’s draft, and we feel like they’re going to be a big part of our future as well."
Kaprielian in particular creates intrigue. The 2015 first-round selection missed all of last season after having Tommy John surgery, but the A's still made sure to acquire him at the trade deadline from the Yankees as part of the Sonny Gray deal.
"Knock on wood, there have been no setbacks," Melvin said. "From what I understand, he’s about as hard working a kid as you could possibly have. So he’s taking this seriously. He knows the rehab is very important when he comes back, and we’ve heard his makeup, from what we’ve heard from people around the league, certainly with the Yankees, is off the charts.
"I don’t know (if he's an option for this season), maybe towards the end....Who knows how it plays out? But we really felt like, when they made the trade, that that was a guy we had to have in the trade."
Roberts said lefthander Julio Urias was playing catch last month in his rehab from shoulder surgery. Roberts did not have a timetable for whether Urias will be ready for spring training...Mickey Callaway was known examining young pitchers on the backfields of spring training as the Indians pitching coach. He now has significantly more duties as the Mets manager, but said he still intends to spend time on the backfields as much as he can. "I think everyone on your roster is going to help you win at some point," he said. "They need to know that that work on the backfield, even if you’re a young guy, is very important, so I’ll definitely pay attention to it."...Right fielder Seth Smith and designated hitter Mark Trumbo are free agents, but Orioles manager Buck Showalter said that did not mean Austin Hays will be on the Opening Day roster next year. "Not necessarily," Showalter said. "He’s got a chance to contribute in the future. We think it’s kind of when, not if.”