Nothing ordinary about Brewers’ international signing Lara
MILWAUKEE — Balls fly into the second deck at Miller Park regularly during batting practice, as numerous big-league hitters have put on impressive displays over the years.
But a 16-year-old?
Gilbert Lara isn’t ordinary for his age. The Milwaukee Brewers have invested $3.1 million in the Dominican shortstop, by far the richest international signing in franchise history.
It didn’t take long for Lara to make an impression, as he recently visited Miller Park and put on quite the batting-practice display.
— Lance Allan (@lanceallan) July 21, 2014
"Impact bat," Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said. "He’s 16 years old, coming in here and hitting balls into the second deck. The last round, he said, ‘I’m going to go to right field,’ and he started hitting line drives to right field."
The Brewers were long rumored as the favorites to sign Lara, who was ranked as the fourth-best available international prospect by MLB.com. Although the international signing period opened up July 2, Milwaukee made its deal with Lara official on July 10.
By giving $3.1 million to Lara, the Brewers exceeded their international bonus pool of $2,611,800. Milwaukee acquired another $339,000 in pool money by trading minor-league pitcher Rodolfo Fernandez to Oakland but still sat at $2,950,800 million of available money.
According to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, Milwaukee will be taxed at a 100 percent rate on the amount it exceeded its limit. The Brewers will not face future penalties because they went over their allotted amount by less than five percent.
"I always trusted God that the best thing was going to come to me," Lara said, using Eduardo Brizuela, Milwaukee’s director of Latin American operations, as his translator. "I kept working hard every day, trying to become a better player, and I knew that one day this was going to happen. I kept my faith up and I was positive throughout the whole process."
Lara is not eligible to play immediately, but he will play in the instructional league in Arizona this fall. Melvin said the Brewers will use that time to determine if Lara will play in the Dominican Summer League next season or if he will jump right to rookie ball in Arizona.
The jump right to rookie ball would be a big one for someone who will be the same age as a junior in high school come next summer, but the Brewers feel Lara could be advanced enough to do it.
"He’s a very humble young boy," Brizuela said. "He carries himself very well. He comes from a good family, and his trainer, Jaime Ramos, is one of the big agents down in the Dominican Republic. He’s a guy that has trained him very well and has shown him how important family is and how you work hard to get where you want to be."
As of now, Lara will begin his professional career as a shortstop. But already 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, his size could eventually force a move to third base or even the outfield. Melvin used younger versions of Alex Rodriguez, Alex Rios and Juan Gonzalez as comparisons to Lara’s current frame.
"I want to play shortstop," Lara said. "That’s the position I’ve been working at and I want to continue to work out there and eventually play there at a higher level."
The signing of Lara by far exceeded the previous franchise record for international bonuses set in 2013 when shortstop Franly Mallen and outfielder Nicolas Pierre each signed with the Brewers for $800,000.
Both players made their professional debuts in the Dominican Summer League this season at 18 years old. Pierre is hitting .258 with three home runs, 10 RBI and eight stolen bases, while Mallen has a .229 batting average with a home run and 16 RBI.
There’s been a bit of a learning curve for Mallen at shortstop, as he’s made 24 errors in 42 games.
While players like Lara are years away from having a chance to contribute at the big-league level, the signing of such a highly touted prospect is an indicator of the Brewers’ presence in the Dominican Republic.
"This is a major step to show the expanded and serious nature of our involvement in Latin America," Melvin said. "Gilbert is a top talent that we are all very excited about."
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