At age seventeen, most typical kids are beginning to drive, going on dates, thinking about college, hanging out with their friends and enjoying their high school years.
At age seventeen, Milwaukee Brewers infield prospect Gilbert Lara was doing things a little bit differently, packing up and moving to a foreign country to begin a career as a professional baseball player after signing a contract worth more than three million dollars as a 16-year-old in July of 2014.
With tremendous raw power, Lara is strong and athletic with eye-popping tools at the plate that make you stop and take notice every time he steps into the batters box. A shortstop with a strong arm, some scouts believe that he may outgrow the position and a move to third base may be in order in the future.
He got off to a blistering start in the AZL, hitting .432 in the month of June and showing everyone why he was so highly regarded as an International free agent.
Lara put together a nine game hitting streak in the official start to his pro career, collecting 16 hits in those first nine games and continued to standout at the plate in early July, posting a pair of four hit games against the Reds and Indians.
From there however, things went south for Lara, who started showing signs of fatigue. He finished the month of July with just a .213 average and hit only .200 in the month of August.
Lara finished his AZL season slashing .248/.285/.332. Ten of his fifty hits went for extra bases and he scored 29 runs while knocking in 25 over the course of 51 games.
Despite his late season struggles, the Brewers bumped Lara up to Helena following the conclusion of the AZL campaign. He appeared in 12 Pioneer League games after his promotion, collecting nine hits in forty-nine plate appearances.
If that wasn’t enough work for the young phenom, Lara returned to Arizona for the Brewers instructional league in the fall, getting more instruction while working at both shortstop and third base.
“They really threw a lot at him” said one talent evaluator who saw Lara in Arizona. “He’s such a big boy that you forget how really young this kid is. To
go from instructs to spring training to extended to rookie league and then instructs again. That’s a pretty heavy load for a kid his age.”
All of that work is a good indication of the value that the Brewers place in Lara though, as most players in his situation would be thrilled to even make it stateside before their 18th birthday.
Franly Mallen and Nicolas Pierre, Milwaukee’s two big ticket signings in 2013 both made their debuts in the Dominican Summer League. Mallen even returned to the DSL for a second stint in 2015. Yosmer Leal, who signed in 2012 has yet to make his U.S. debut and Marcos Diplan, Lara’s teammate at Helena, who signed with the Texas Rangers for $1.3 million in 2013 also spent a year in the Dominican before he was traded to the Brewers prior to the 2015 season.
Looking around the league at how other teams handle their prized international signings shows further evidence of just how aggressive Milwaukee has been with Lara. Put his numbers up against any of the big names from the 2014 class and he compares favorably.
Entering the July 2nd signing period in 2014, Lara was ranked as the fourth best international prospect available according to MLB Pipeline. Dermis Garcia, a shortstop ranked number one, Nelson Gomez, a third baseman ranked number two and Juan De Leon, an outfielder ranked number five were all signed by the New York Yankees. Of the three, only Garcia made his way stateside in 2015 and he struggled mightily, hitting just .159 for the Yankees affiliate in the Gulf Coast League. Shortstop Adrian Rondon, ranked number three, was signed by Tampa Bay and he also debuted in the GCL, but like Garcia, he struggled at the plate, hitting .166 in 43 games.
Even Minnesota Twins third baseman, Miguel Sano, one of the most sought after prospects to come out of the Dominican Republic in recent years, and the subject of the documentary “Pelotero”, got his feet wet in the Dominican Summer League before coming stateside in 2010.
When you take all of these things into consideration, the future looks extremely bright for the 6’2″ Lara, who just celebrated his 18th birthday in May.
At the pace he’s going, Lara could open 2016 at Class-A Wisconsin. The Brewers have shown that they are willing to push players that they think can handle it, placing more emphasis on game action and at bats against live pitching.
Reaching a full-season team at the age of eighteen is no small feat for a guy who’s typical high school classmates will be preparing for graduation and getting ready to head off to college.
Then again, Lara is anything but typical.