CHICAGO -- The White Sox are known for their Cuban connection when focusing upon the topic of international signings. José Abreu and Luis Robert, two of those Cuban natives, currently are in prime position to help the White Sox push for playoff contention.
But the White Sox have a broader scope than Cuba when talking about the best international players they have ever signed.
MLB Pipeline recently released its annual Top 30 International Prospects list for players eligible to sign in the 2020-21 signing period. These young players are the game’s international stars of tomorrow, and are following in the footsteps of thousands of international players who laid the groundwork before them. One day, these young men could be remembered among the best players in team history.
These are the White Sox Top 5 international prospects of all time.
Aparicio joined the White Sox from Venezuela in 1954 and became one of the greatest players in franchise history between two stops with the organization. The White Sox had a Hall of Fame combination of Aparicio at shortstop and Nellie Fox at second from 1956-62, and they have been immortalized with a Guaranteed Rate Field statue unveiled in 2006 because their combined impact was so great. Aparicio won the '56 American League Rookie of the Year Award and finished second in the '59 AL MVP Award voting to none other than Fox.
He also was a six-time All-Star and seven-time Gold Glove winner with the White Sox. Aparicio’s 318 stolen bases rank second behind Eddie Collins (368) for most in franchise history, and Aparicio was the AL stolen base leader in each of his first seven seasons with the team.
The Venezuela native signed with the White Sox in 1991 and worked through parts of six season in the Minors before reaching the Majors in '97. Ordonez had five seasons with at least 30 doubles, three seasons with at least 40 doubles and four seasons of 30 home runs -- he just missed a fifth when he hit 29 in 2003. Ordonez was a four-time All-Star with the White Sox and drove in at least 100 runs in three out of four seasons between '99-02 before helping the Tigers get to the '06 World Series and then winning the '07 AL batting title.
White Sox executive vice president Ken Williams previously spoke of the inherent but calculated risk the White Sox were taking when outbidding other teams such as the Astros, Rockies and Red Sox in inking Abreu to a six-year, $68 million free agent deal on Oct. 29, 2013. Abreu’s contract at the time represented the biggest total money in franchise history, and it was resting on the shoulders of a 26-year-old rookie, albeit a rookie who had excelled for the better part of a decade with Cienfuegos in Cuba. That risk paid off greater than they could have imagined.
Abreu enters the 2020 campaign having produced at least 25 home runs, 100 RBIs, 32 doubles and an .820 OPS in five of his previous six seasons with Chicago. That sixth season in '18 was cut short during September due to injury. The first baseman has proven to be a guiding force within the clubhouse and after agreeing upon a three-year, $50 million deal this past offseason, he should have his first chance to win after enduring six losing seasons on the South Side.
4) Luis Robert
Key fact: Could be the fulcrum of the rebuild to contention move
The five-tool talent has yet to have a plate appearance during a regular-season Major League game. But Robert already has agreed to a six-year, $50 million contract, along with the White Sox holding $20 million options for both 2026 and ’27 with $2 million buyouts for either season. That extension followed the initial $26 million signing bonus for Robert when the Cuba native and No. 1 International free agent (per MLB Pipeline) agreed to a Minor League deal with the White Sox on May 27, 2017.
Robert is a true five-tool talent, as proven by his remarkable 2019 Minor League season featuring a slash line of .328/.376/.624 across stops at Class A Advanced Winston-Salem, Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte with 32 home runs, 92 RBIs, 108 runs scored, 31 doubles, 11 triples and 36 stolen bases. He will be the White Sox center fielder once the '20 season begins, and will be in that position for many years to come.
Iguchi was basically scouted through video by Williams, and the second baseman was added via a two-year, $4.95 million deal as the final offseason free agent piece of the 2005 World Series title puzzle. The Japan native, who played eight seasons in the Japan Pacific League before coming to the Major Leagues at age 30, was a solid defensive presence and was the perfect fit at the two-spot in the White Sox lineup.
It was a common 2005 occurrence for leadoff hitter Scott Podsednik to get on base, steal second and be moved to third or driven in by Iguchi to give the White Sox an early lead. Iguchi also came up with the big hit in Game 2 of the ‘05 American League Division Series against Boston, launching a two-out three-run homer off of David Wells during a five-run fifth to give the White Sox the victory margin in a 5-4 win and a 2-0 series lead.
Carlos Lee had a franchise-record 28-game hitting streak in 2004. Although the Panama native began as a third baseman in the Minors after signing with the organization in ‘94, Lee played almost exclusively in left field during his six years with the White Sox. ... Alexei Ramirez added to the White Sox Cuban connection when he played shortstop for eight seasons with Chicago, finishing his White Sox career with 109 homers, 227 doubles and 135 stolen bases. ... Fernando Tatis Jr. was traded with right-handed hurler Erik Johnson to the Padres in exchange for veteran starter James Shields on June 4, 2016. Tatis Jr. was ranked 27th on MLB Pipeline’s Top International Prospects list when he signed for $825,000 with the White Sox in '15. It would have been interesting to see where Tatis Jr. fit and if he would have developed the same way if he stayed with the South Siders. ... Shingo Takatsu was nicknamed "Mr. Zero" and served as the White Sox closer in 2004, recording a 2.31 ERA and 19 saves over 59 games by featuring his patented frisbee pitch. ... Dayán Viciedo came from Cuba to the White Sox and debuted at 21 years old in 2010. He played third, first, left and right, hitting 60 homers from 2012-14, marking his final three seasons in the Majors. ... Micker Adolfo might be ranked a little higher on this list if not for having to deal with a plethora of injuries since joining the organization.