Oh, it’s on now.
We’re up to #6 in our countdown of the Brewers’ top 10 prospects according to the Brew Crew Ball community, and we've reached a guy who, in my opinion, is the most exciting prospect in the Brewers’ system: SS/3B Gilbert Lara. This is the young man I was waiting for. If you want to check in with the bottom of our list, do so here:
10. Taylor Jungmann
9. Taylor Williams
8. Tyler Wagner
7. Devin Williams
6. Gilbert Lara
5. Luis Sardinas
4. Monte Harrison
3. Clint Coulter
2. Tyrone Taylor
1. Orlando Arcia
The Brewers made a significant investment in Lara in 2014 when they demolished their previous record for an international amateur signing, nabbing Lara for $3.1 million. Their previous record had been set the a year prior when they gave a pair of 16-year-olds from the Dominican Republic – Franly Mallen and Nicolas Pierre -- $800,000 each. Lara, who was also sixteen at the time of his signing, also hails from the Dominican Republic.
With that kind of commitment from a team not used to making big splashes on the international scene comes big expectations. Lara was a consensus top-five international prospect – FanGraphs had him as the top player available, while MLB.com and Baseball America listed him at No. 4 and No. 5, respectively – and he was immediately inserted into Milwaukee’s list of top prospects. Originally listed at 6’3", 205 lbs. as a prospect coming out of the DR, Lara is listed by the Brewers at 6’2", 190 lbs., which is perfectly normal since most men begin to shrink around the age of 17.
Lara impressed at instructs in 2014 after signing in July, with coaches so impressed with his ability to play shortstop that they postponed a planned move to third base. That move has been made now, though he continues to see time at shortstop as well. He also reportedly had the highest batting average in the instructional league, though those stats are not made public.
Lara’s prodigious raw power and highly regarded hit tool have yet to manifest themselves after a year of real games with the Brewers’ rookie-level teams. The book on Lara was that his wild, max-effort swing would cause him to get into trouble chasing pitches, but he managed an average, if unspectacular, 20.2 K% in 2015. He hit just one home run at extended spring training, where he played 51 games and hit .248/.285/.332 with a wRC+ of 81. He was bumped up to Helena in late August when the Arizona League wrapped up and struggled a bit more, slashing .205/.286/.273 with a wRC+ of 50 and managing just five extra base hits.
So that’s not a great start, but he also won’t turn 18 until next Friday – when I was 17, I spent my summer sipping Big Buddies of blue slushies from Kwik Trip and getting owned in Halo 2 by my best friend Derek. I did, however, record four triples for the U17 Genesee Bombers of the Waukesha Parks and Recreation league. Lara is playing with professionals at an age when most of his teammates were still finishing out their high school careers. As he learns and grows -- physically and mentally -- in the Brewers' system, he should begin to flex the power numbers that made him a priority signing for Milwaukee a year ago.
Unless he shows some significant improvements this fall and in spring training next March, there’s a better-than-not chance that Lara returns to Helena rather than being assigned to Low-A Wisconsin to begin next season. He’s still playing shortstop right now but long term the fit is almost certainly at third base. Lara is raw and has a long way to go to establish himself as a bona fide prospect, but he has one of the highest upsides of anyone in the Brewers’ system and he possesses the tools to become an elite major league hitter.