Last season Robert, 22, authored a .328/.376/.624 batting line with 32 home runs and 36 stolen bases at three minor-league levels, including a .297/.341/.634 line in 47 Triple-A games. In a more sane universe, Robert would have been a September call-up, but Chicago did not want to start his service-time clock. The contract ensures no games will be played with his service time going forward.
The White Sox have already signed two prospects to pre-MLB debut deals. Why not a third? Second baseman Nick Madrigal is a unicorn. The kid hit .311/.377/.414 with only 16 strikeouts — 16 strikeouts! — in 120 minor -eague games last year. His 3.0 percent strikeout rate and 2.2 percent swing-and-miss rate were easily the lowest among the 1,100 players with at least 300 plate appearances in the minors in 2019. The center field seat was being kept warm for Robert and the second base seat is being kept warm for Madrigal. Chicago is serious about contending this coming season and they should get Madrigal on the Opening Day roster. Because he is not the same level of prospect as Jimenez and Robert, the Kingery and White deals work better as potential framework here.
At some point this coming season the Blue Jays will call up flamethrowing righty Nate Pearson. The 23-year-old is the hardest throwing starter in the minors and he struck out 119 batters with a 2.30 ERA in 101 2/3 innings last year. He reached Triple-A and, even with its offseason additions, Toronto has a rotation spot earmarked for Pearson. The Jays are going to bring him up at some point in 2020. An extension would allow everyone to stop playing dumb and pretend a Triple-A stint is needed for development purposes rather than service-time reasons, and land Pearson in the Opening Day rotation.

  • Jon Singleton, Astros: 5 years, $10 million in June 2014
  • Scott Kingery, Phillies: 6 years, $24 million in March 2018
  • Eloy Jimenez, White Sox: 6 years, $43 million in March 2019
  • Evan White, Mariners: 6 years, $24 million in November 2019
  • Luis Robert, White Sox: 6 years, $50 million in January 2019

White played the entire 2019 season in Double-A. The other four players each had at least 45 games of Triple-A experience when they signed their contracts. There have been four of these prospect extensions in the last 10 months now and I would expect to see more going forward. Here are five prospects who could be next in line for a pre-MLB debut contract (listed in alphabetical order).

1. Jo Adell, Angels

For all intents and purposes, Robert is now a big leaguer, leaving Angels wunderkind Jo Adell as the best outfield prospect in the minors. The 20-year-old hit .289/.359/.475 with 10 home runs in 76 games around hamstring and ankle injuries in 2019, and he did reach Triple-A. The Angels are desperately trying to win now and, in what figures to be a fierce competition for the two American League wild-card spots, every win matters. Their right field job is wide open and an extension would allow the Halos to carry Adell on their Opening Day roster and not worry about his service time. The Jimenez and Robert contracts serve as fine framework.

2. Wander Franco, Rays

The Chicago White Sox continued their active offseason Thursday, though this time they did not bring in another new player. Instead, they locked up one of their own. The ChiSox signed top prospect Luis Robert a six-year contract extension worth million. The deal could swell to eight years and million. Robert is expected to now be the Opening Day center fielder.

3. Nick Madrigal, White Sox

Honorable Mention: SS Jazz Chisholm, Marlins; 3B Ke’Bryan Hayes, Pirates; 1B/OF Alex Kirilloff, Twins; OF Cristian Pache, Braves; RHP Forrest Whitley, Astros

4. Casey Mize, Tigers

Wander Franco, the No. 1 prospect in baseball, has yet to play a professional game above High Class-A. He is a tremendous talent though — the 18-year-old hit .327/.398/.487 with way more walks (56) than strikeouts (35) in 114 games last year — and if any team were going to sign a Single-A player to a long-term extension to save money down the line, it would be the Rays. It is not out of the question that Franco could make his MLB debut as a 19-year-old in 2020. An extension would give the contending Rays no reason to keep him down. When he’s deemed ready to help, they can put him in the lineup. The Kingery and White contracts may be more appropriate than the Jimenez and Robert contracts given Franco’s proximity to the big leagues.

5. Nate Pearson, Blue Jays

Notice anything about the five players who have signed pre-MLB debut contracts? They’re all position players. No team has locked up a pitching prospect long-term yet because there is so much inherent injury risk. Eventually some team will take the plunge and give a pitching prospect a long-term contract. The Tigers and Casey Mize, the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft, are as good a bet to do it as anyone. The 22-year-old is arguably the best pitching prospect in baseball and he threw 109 1/3 innings with a 2.55 ERA and 106 strikeouts around a shoulder issue in 2019. Mize spent most of the year in Double-A and is considered MLB ready despite the lack of Triple-A experience. I’m not sure what an dollar value would be, but Mize is a candidate for a pre-MLB debut contract. Signing prospects to long-term contracts before they make their MLB debut is a relatively new trend. The Astros were the first to do it with first baseman Jon Singleton a few years back, and other clubs have since caught on. Robert is now the fifth player to sign a long-term contract before making his MLB debut. The list: