Luis Robert, one of the best prospects to leave Cuba in recent years, has been cleared by Major League Baseball and will be eligible to sign on May 20. (Baseball America)

By Rob Rains

Over the past several months, two of the Cardinals’ top scouts, Matt Slater and Moises Rodriguez, have become well acquainted with Cuban outfield prospect Luis Robert.

They have watched him in showcases and other competitions. They have attended his workouts in the Dominican Republic. They analyzed, researched and crunched numbers about what it would possibly take to sign Robert when he was cleared by Major League Baseball.

That happened this week, and May 20 has been set as the day that Robert will be eligible to sign. Between now and then, the Cardinals are expected to be one of several teams which will conduct a private workout with Robert In front of Slater, the director of player personnel, and Rodriguez, the director of international operations, and no doubt other high-ranking team officials.

The Cardinals have had a virtually unprecedented year in signing international amateur free agents the last 10 months, and adding Robert to the fold would be a major accomplishment that would cap off that flurry of signings.

Here are seven reasons why it should happen:

1. He is one of the two best players in the world not currently in the major leagues – and the only one of the two the Cardinals will have a chance to sign. The other is Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani, who has indicated he would like to jump from Japan to the major leagues after this season, when he will be subject to the rules of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Because of going over their signing cap for international players this year, however, the Cardinals will be prohibited from signing any capped player for more than $300,000 for the next two years.

Ohtani will not be able to sign for nearly as much money as he would have had he waited to sign until he turned 25, but he has said that doesn’t matter to him. Still, he will get a lot more than what the Cardinals will be allowed to offer.

2. Some of the most competitive teams aren’t allowed to sign Robert. Among the teams already banned from signing international players for more than $300,000 because of their past signings are the Cubs, Red Sox, Yankees, Dodgers and Angels. Taking those teams out of the mix drastically levels the playing field among the competitors to sign Robert.

According to Baseball America, the teams which have shown the most interest in Robert are the Cardinals, White Sox, Astros, Padres, Reds and Athletics. There is no reason to think any of those teams can out-bid the Cardinals if they decide Robert is worth the money. Of those teams all except the White Sox have, like the Cardinals, already surpassed their cap for this signing period and will have to pay a dollar-for-dollar penalty for whatever bonus is paid to Robert.

3. He is worth the money. The Cardinals already have spent more than $11 million on international free agents this year, and it likely will take that much or more to sign Robert, plus the matching penalty. He is better than all of those players, however, and if he signs with the Cardinals would instantly become one of the top three prospects in the organization, right next to Alex Reyes and Delvin Perez.

4. The Cardinals don’t have a prospect like the 6-foot-3, right-handed Robert. He projects to hit for plus power, and one thing that is lacking in the organization’s farm system is a top power prospect. Robert projects as a middle-of-the order bat who will most likely be a corner outfielder in the majors. Other than Dylan Carlson, still 18, and Victor Garcia, only 17, the other top outfield prospects in the organization are more top-of-the-order type hitters, such as Harrison Bader, Magneuris Sierra and Jonatan Machado. The only two minor-leaguers who hit more than 20 homers last year for the Cardinals were David Washington, no longer in the organization, and infielder Paul DeJong, who hit 22 for Springfield.

5. Robert already has a friend in the organization. One power-prospect the Cardinals might have is one of their most recent signings, outfielder Jose Adolis Garcia, and there is a reason he should be linked to Robert. Garcia was signed just before the start of spring training, and happens to be close with Robert. The 24-year-old Garcia, also from Cuba, is a promising prospect in his own right and it certainly can’t hurt to have somebody who is close to Robert who already is part of the organization and can answer whatever questions he might have. Garcia is off to a good start at Double A Springfield, where he has three homers in his first 10 games, tied for second in the Texas League, to go along with a .289 average in his first month as a professional.

6. Signing Robert would allow the Cardinals to overcome their lost draft picks. The Cardinals won’t have a selection until the 94th pick in the amateur draft in June. They forfeited their first round pick for signing Dexter Fowler, and then were stripped of their next two highest picks as part of the penalty for former scouting director Chris Correa hacking into the Astros computer database. If Robert were a draft-eligible player, he no doubt would be one of the very top picks in the draft, a luxury the Cardinals never have of picking that high up in the draft.

7. The Cardinals have the money. The loss of the top three draft picks has reduced the team’s bonus pool for the draft from more than $9 million last year to just over $2.1 million this year. Even though it comes out of a different budget, some of the money the team won’t be spending on draft picks could be used to sign Robert. Also, because of the new CBA rules that go in effect when the next international signing period begins on July 2, the Cardinals will not be allowed to exceed their cap in coming years – even after they come off their two-year probation, so this definitely becomes a one-time chance to spend money and acquire top-flight prospects.

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