Baseball may be known as “America’s Pastime”, but more and more it’s becoming the world’s game. In baseball hotbeds like Puerto Rico, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic the game is hugely popular.
There is plenty of talent to be found internationally and to say the Brewers have been less than active in that international market over the past ten years would be an understatement.
But things appear to be changing.
Last July 2nd, the Brewers inked a pair of players, infielder Franly Mallen and outfielder Nicolas Pierre-Figueroa, agreeing to record bonuses of $800,000 for each. And rumors abound that the team already has a deal in place for this July with 16-year-old third baseman Gilbert Lara.
The $3.2 million bonus rumored for Lara would shatter the Brewers record for an international signing and mark a significant change in strategy for Milwaukee.
While the shift to acquiring more international talent is certainly something to look forward to, the fact remains that the team has chosen to focus the majority of their resources on the U.S.
The one position that appears to be an obvious exception for the Brewers is up the middle, at shortstop.
From Milwaukee, all the way down throughout the system, many of the Brewers shortstops come from outside of the United States.
Jean Segura, who hails from the Dominican Republic, was acquired by the Brewers in 2012, in exchange for pitcher Zack Greinke. Segura enjoyed a breakout 2013 season in which he made the National League All-Star team, batting .294 with 12 home runs and 44 stolen bases.
The 23-year-old from San Juan is penciled in as the Brewers shortstop of both the present and the future, but the Brewers have a handful of other exciting young shortstop prospects from the Dominican Republic to keep a watchful eye on as well.
25-year-old Hector Gomez was claimed off of waivers from the Colorado Rockies in 2012 and spent last season at Double-A Huntsville. Gomez was once a highly regarded prospect in the Rockies system, but a string of bad luck and injuries have kept him from fulfilling that potential thus far. He should have a good shot to be the starting shortstop at Triple-A Nashville in 2014.
Milwaukee also has a trio of interesting youngsters in Mallen, Daniel Leonardo, and Gregory Munoz. Leonardo and Munoz split time as short for the Brewers Dominican Summer League affiliate last season, and Mallen could make his pro debut there this year.
As a 17-year-old, Leonardo played in 60 games in the DSL, while Munoz, who just turned 20 in February, led the team with a .292 average. One or more of these talented shortstops could be brought stateside to play for the Brewers in the AZL this summer.
One of the Brewers best international moves to date, has been the signing of 6’0″, 165 pound Venezuelan, Orlando Arcia.
The 19-year-old Arcia is one of the highest rated prospects in the Brewers organization and should be the starting shortstop at High-A Brevard County at just 19 years old.
In his first year of full-season ball, Arcia hit .251 and scored 67 runs while playing in a career-high 120 games with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers in the Midwest League in 2013.
Unlike other young players from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, players from Puerto Rico are draft eligible, and the Brewers used picks to select a pair of slick-fielding Puerto Ricans in 21-year-old Yadiel Rivera and 20-year-old Angel Ortega in recent drafts.
Rivera was selected in the 9th round of the 2010 draft and spent last season at High-A Brevard County. Known for his glove, the 6’2″ Rivera hit .241 in 129 games for the Manatees in 2013. He drew a career high 32 walks and cut down on his strikeouts while going 40 straight games without committing an error from May 28th-July 15th. Rivera should open the season as the starting shortstop at Double-A Huntsville.
Ortega was a 6th round selection in 2012, and like Rivera, is famous for his highlight reel defense. After spending last season at Helena, where he played in 63 games for Milwaukee’s lone affiliate to make the playoffs, Ortega appears ticketed for Low-A Wisconsin to begin 2014.
In Baseball America’s recent list of top 100 prospects, seven of the top ten prospects entering the 2014 season were born outside of the United States. While the Brewers still have some work to do on the international front, they are making steps in the right direction and have helped solidify their depth at a key position up the middle.
If players like Arcia, Rivera, and Mallen can duplicate some of the success of Segura, the Brewers shortstop position should be in good hands for years to come.