The Milwaukee Brewers are set to make some baseball history, with Jon Heyman reporting that the team has given their top prospect, 19-year-old outfielder Jackson Chourio, an eight-year, $80 million contract extension — the richest ever for a player who’s yet to reach the Majors.
Breaking: Top CF prospect Jackson Chourio, 19, and the Brewers are expected to complete today the richest contract ever for a player who has yet to reach the big leagues. The deal is expected to be for 8 guaranteed years snd close to $80M and include two team options.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) November 30, 2023
Chourio is among the very best prospects in the game — MLB Pipeline has him at No. 2 on their top 100 list, for example — but still, $80 million is an eye-popping number; it blows the previous record deal for a prospect out of the water, nearly doubling up the contracts that the Chicago White Sox gave to Luis Robert Jr. (six years, $50 million) and Eloy Jimenez (six years, $43 million) prior to their MLB debuts. It’s also a higher total value than a good number of current Major League stars, names like Sonny Gray, Kyle Schwarber and Spencer Strider, and all for a guy who’s taken just six at-bats above Double-A and won’t turn 20 until next March.
But once you get past the sticker shock, this is really just the logical next step of what’s been an ongoing trend around the league. Teams — especially teams like the Brewers, who will seldom be able to sign (or re-sign) stars in free agency — want their key players under contract for as many years as possible. Those players, meanwhile, want financial security, a way to make meaningful money without having to wait for free agency — a wait during which they could suffer an injury or dip in performance that affects their market. This was the bargain the White Sox made with Robert Jr. and the Braves have made with guys like Strider, Ronald Acuna Jr. and Michael Harris II: Give us a couple more years of team control and we’ll give you a raise, one that will fall short of market value but is still a significant improvement over what you’re making now.
Of course, Strider, Acuna Jr. and Harris II had all established themselves as budding stars at the MLB level before signing their deals, while Chourio still has a lot to prove. But this is the kind of long-term thinking that smaller markets like Milwaukee need in order to contend: They now have Chourio under team control through 2031, rather than 2029, and at a price that will still look like a steal if the 19-year-old becomes the player everyone thinks he will.
What to know about Brewers phenom Jackson Chourio
Chourio originally signed with the Brewers as an international free agent out of Venezuela back in January 2021. He was a shortstop at the time, and while a less-than-ideal throwing arm would eventually precipitate a move to the outfield, it didn’t take long for everyone to realize that Milwaukee had a future star on their hands.
Chourio jumped right to Single-A to start 2022, a very aggressive assignment for an 18-year-old in his first taste of professional baseball in the States. But he passed with flying colors, hitting .288/.342/.538 with 20 homers and 16 steals in 99 games across three different levels. (He also appeared in the 2022 Futures Game, the only participant with a 2004 birth date.) Chourio spent most of this past season in Double-A, where he slashed .280/.336/.467 with 22 homers and 43 steals despite being nearly five years younger than the average player in his league. The Brewers gave him a brief taste of Triple-A before the end of the year, and he enters 2024 ready to compete for Milwaukee’s starting center fielder job in spring training — all before he can even buy a legal drink in his new country.
But his stats to this point are just the tip of the iceberg. The real reason the Brewers are so excited about keeping Chourio around — and the reason just about everyone has him safely within the top five prospects in the sport — is simple: He might be the single freakiest athlete in the entire Minors. Teenagers that combine truly top-of-the-scale speed with the ability to go 422 feet to dead center simply don’t come around that often:
Of course, there are kinks to be worked out here, as there are in even the best 19-year-olds. Chourio’s plate discipline could still use some work, as he has a penchant for expanding the zone and getting a bit overaggressive — understandable for someone as talented as he is, but a tendency that could get exposed a bit as he faces Major League pitching for the first time. Still, he’s just 19, and he made adjustments as the 2023 season wore on that suggest he’s more than capable of hitting enough to unlock all that athleticism at the plate. The base of skills is as impressive as you’ll find, one that gives him as high a ceiling as anybody in the years to come.
But just as importantly for Milwaukee, that athleticism also gives Chourio a solid floor: Even if he never hits enough to reach that ceiling, his defensive ability virtually ensures that he’ll be at least a $10 million a year player in the Majors. It’s very hard to envision him falling short of this contract, while it’s not hard at all to envision him quickly making it look like one of the biggest bargains in the sport. That’s why it makes all the sense in the world for the Brewers, while Chourio will get life-changing money years before hitting the open market.