International Reviews: Milwaukee Brewers
Total 2017 Signings: 38.
Top 2017-18 signing: OF Larry Ernesto, Dominican Republic, $1.7 million.
Milwaukee’s biggest bonus last year went to Larry Ernesto, an athletic outfielder from the Dominican Republic who signed for $1.7 million on July 2. Ernesto stood out for an exciting blend of athleticism, speed and a lean, sleek frame (6-foot-2, 175 pounds) with high physical upside. As an amateur, Ernesto showed 70 speed in the 60-yard dash, running it as fast as 6.4 seconds.
Ernesto is an explosive athlete, though many clubs considered his baseball skills to still be raw for a 17-year-old. The Brewers saw a player who took quality at-bats and a knack for barreling the ball in games, but other clubs felt Ernesto lacked natural rhythm and timing at the plate, leading to a higher swing-and-miss rate. He had trouble keeping his head locked in during his swing, leading to struggles with pitch recognition and strike-zone discipline with both fastballs and breaking pitches. Ernesto is a switch-hitter who’s more advanced from the left side, with solid raw power for his age. Ernesto moves well in a straight line but not as well laterally, and his reads, routes and overall outfield instincts are still rudimentary. The Brewers were pleased with the progress he has made defensively since signing, though other clubs saw risk he could end up in a corner, possibly left field with a below-average arm. Ernesto trained with Niche.
Venezuelan outfielder Carlos Rodriguez signed for $1.355 million, and several scouts preferred him to Ernesto. Rodriguez (5-foot-10, 155 pounds) can’t match Ernesto’s size and athleticism, but he was one of the top hitters and most polished all-around players in the 2017 class.
Rodriguez, a 17-year-old represented by Felix Olivo, has a strong track record of hitting well in games as an amateur. Even though he loads his hands deep, to the point of barring his arm, Rodriguez demonstrated excellent bat control, putting the ball in play at a high rate with a slight uppercut and hitting line drives to all fields. With a solid grasp of the strike zone, Rodriguez’s offensive game will center around his ability to get on base. He has a slender build that lacks strength, so it’s unlikely he ever grows into much power.
Rodriguez is an average runner who some scouts think could get faster once he gains strength. While Rodriguez’s present speed isn’t ideal for center field, he earns high marks for his defensive instincts. He looks natural in the outfield, where he reads the ball well off the bat, takes clean routes and doesn’t make many mistakes. His arm is below-average. Both Rodriguez and Ernesto are scheduled to debut in the Dominican Summer League.
Max Lazar Surpassing Expectations
An 11th-round pick in 2017, Lazar has struck out 43 batters in 28 innings with low Class A Wisconsin this season.
Dominican outfielder Jeicor Cristian, 16, signed with the Brewers for $340,000 on July 2 after training with Fifo and Jaime Ramos. Cristian’s tall, lean frame (6-foot-3, 170 pounds) screams projection. Cristian has a lot of physical upside and should grow into significant lefthanded power, though his feel for hitting is still crude. An average runner, Cristian could rotate around all three outfield spots early in his career, but he’s probably best suited for a corner.
Venezuelan catcher Andres Melendez, 17, signed with the Brewers for $325,000 on July 2. Melendez was advanced enough that the Brewers brought him to Arizona for instructional league last fall, where he made a strong impression for his catch-and-throw skills, arm strength and especially his athleticism behind the plate. While Melendez’s defense is what stood out as an amateur, he has shown promising early signs from the right side of the plate as well, putting the ball in play at a high clip with line drives to all fields. He trained with Yerson Arguirre.
Francis Casado, a 17-year-old Dominican outfielder, signed for $300,000 on July 2. He has some similarities to Cristian, with a lot of physical projection to add strength to his 6-foot-1, 180-pound frame. The ball jumps off his bat well now from the right side in BP and he has a chance to hit for power, although he will need to improve his strike-zone discipline and contact skills to get to his power in games. He’s an average runner who is athletic enough to have a chance to stay in center field.
The Brewers signed Venezuelan shortstop Daniel Castillo, a 17-year-old who trained with Carlos Guillen, for $140,000 on July 2. An instinctive player, Castillo is 5-foot-11, 155 pounds and projects as a true shortstop. He’s an average runner with good actions, soft hands and good range to both sides. Castillo has a strong arm and the ability to make sharp throws from different angles, with a knack for being in the right place at the right time. At the plate, Castillo doesn’t have much power right now, but he’s a switch-hitter who can spray the ball to all fields.
Another Venezuelan catcher, Jesus Chirinos, signed with the Brewers for $130,000 at the end of July shortly after his 16th birthday. He’s a bulky 6 feet, 195 pounds and had been training as an outfielder but moved behind the plate just before signing. Chirinos still has a lot to learn behind the plate, but he’s athletic for his size with a solid-average arm. He has shown a solid bat and power potential for a catcher his age. Chirinos trained with Douglas Aguiar and Jesus Barbosa.
Toward the end of the 2016-17 signing period in May, the Brewers also gave $800,000 to Cuban first baseman Ernesto Martinez, who hit .232/.383/.368 with three home runs, 36 walks and 50 strikeouts in 196 plate appearances in the DSL. Martinez, 18, is an enormous lefty at 6-foot-6, 230 pounds with above-average power, but his swing is long, which leads to a lot of holes. He’s remarkably flexible for a big man and he does have a strong arm. He has a pitching background as well, having run his fastball up to 92 mph, and some scouts preferred him on the mound, which could be a fallback option for him down the road.