As has been reported by numerous outlets since February, most notably by Kiley McDaniel of scout.com, it still appears that the Brewers will win the sweepstakes for Gilbert Lara, one of the top Dominican Prospects in this year’s July second class. The lastest confirmation came from Baseball America’s Ben Badler, and included this scouting report:
Lara is one of the most physically mature players for 2014 and it shows in his offensive game. His plus raw power ranks second in the class only to Dominican shortstop Dermis Garcia, but Lara takes his power to the games with much higher frequency. His swing and hitting approach are unorthodox, but he has good bat speed and seems to find a way to make it work against live pitching. He’s extremely pull-oriented, starts from an upright stance with his hands up by his ear, takes a deep leg kick and unloads with a max-effort swing with some length. Despite his grip-and-rip style with a tendency to expand the strike zone and pull off the ball, Lara gets the bat head out front and has a track record of producing with power in games, including the MLB showcase in January when he went 5-for-6 with a home run, a double and two walks. Garcia (sic) may be getting by on his advanced strength and will have to make adjustments against better pitching to avoid too many strikeouts, though he shouldn’t have much trouble in Rookie ball.
Shortstop isn’t an option for Lara, who’s a below-average runner and lacks natural infield actions. He might get a chance to begin his career at third base, where he does have a quick release to make up for below-average arm strength and a funky throwing stroke. He doesn’t have great hands, range or timing in the infield though, and he’s going to be so big that most scouts consider him a first baseman or left fielder exclusively. Usually scouts are cautious about righthanded-hitting Dominican teenagers who project as first baseman, but there’s enough offensive upside with Lara that scouts still consider him one of the better 2014 prospects. Sources expect the Brewers to make Lara their centerpiece signing, with a possible bonus in the $3 million territory that would rank among the highest in the class.
Baseball America ranked Lara as the fifth best talent available in the July second market this year, while McDaniel ranked him as the best. If the 3+ million dollar figure being thrown around is correct, he would more than triple the highest dollar Latin American amateur signing bonus in Brewers franchise history. That record was set just last year with the signings of Nicolas Pierre and Franly Mallen for $800,000 each.
Signing Lara for that dollar figure would easily put the Brewers over their $2.611 million international “soft cap” for 2014. If they exceed that by more than 15%, which works out to about $400,000 or $3 million total, they lose the right to sign any single player for more than $250,000 next year, and penalty being served this year by both the Cubs and the Rangers.
The only way around this fate would be to trade for more slot space this summer. They are allowed to add up to half of their $2.611 total, meaning they could theoretically get up to a bit over 4 million in total “cap” space before having to pay penalties, if they can find the right trade partners willing to give from their allotment.
The Brewers have increasingly focused on the Latin American market in recent years as a means to add talent. They have a new, state-of-the-art facility for developing players in the Dominican Republic, revamped their scouting staff a couple years ago and began making more meaningful signings in last year’s market as a precursor to this year’s big move on the top of the market.
If the Crew want to sustain the kind of success they’ve had this year over the long term, they’ll need to exploit every possible avenue for adding young talent to the farm system. Winning pushes down where teams pick in the draft, which means limited opportunities to nab the kind of high-impact, franchise altering talent that most successful franchises are built around. That’s why it’s so very important to get heavily involved in Latin America. The rules are not yet as strict as the domestic draft, and that opens up opportunities to add players with the kind of tools that Lara possesses.
If nothing goes wrong and Lara does sign with the Brewers, they will have another extremely high upside player added to their farm system to go with their first day trio from last month’s draft. Even though they certainly come with plenty of risk, the group of Lara, Kodi Medeiros, Jacob Gatewood, Montee Harrison has undeniably massive upside.
Great farm systems don’t just pop up overnight, they have to start somewhere, and the Brewers scouting staff is certainly giving the development side quite a bit of raw material to work with. Only time will tell how it all works out, but bringing the guys in is the first step. Make sure to check back over the next couple of days for updates as the international signing period opens.