Over the past few days, industry news-breakers (beginning with Ken Rosenthal) began to report that the Milwaukee Brewers and top prospect Jackson Chourio are nearing a contract extension. Chourio, who turns 20 in March, has been among the very best prospects in baseball for the better part of the past 18 months. He turned 19 just before the start of the 2023 season and slashed .280/.336/.467 in 122 games at Double-A Biloxi before the Brewers gave him a six-game shot of espresso at Triple-A Nashville in late-September. His power, speed and, more recently, his improvements on defense give him rare upside as a 30/30 threat and plus center field defender.
The complete details of the contract aren’t known, but Curt Hogg of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel first suggested that it would be something like an eight-year, $80 million deal. Adam McCalvy of MLB.com reported that Chourio and the Brewers agreed to a structure and length of eight years, with two club options that would bring the total length to 10 years if exercised. Earlier today, Jon Heyman of the New York Post tweeted that the guaranteed amount will total $82 million, accounting for a $2 million buyout of the Brewers’ club options, while McCalvy reported that the club options plus incentives could push the total value into the $140 million range. If we assume that Chourio will make the Opening Day roster, this deal will cover what would have otherwise been his six years of pre-free agency service, two of his free agent years, and potentially two more. Even if the Brewers pick up the two team options, Chourio will hit free agency again before he turns 30. It’s also worth noting that the big money, team-option portion of Chourio’s contract doesn’t kick in until after Christian Yelich’s monster contract has expired.
Since Evan Longoria’s deal in 2008, it has become more and more common for young players, even a few like Chourio who have yet to play at the major league level, to sign extensions like this, with Luis Robert Jr.’s six-year, $50 million deal in 2020 the most recent example of a pre-debut pact. At something close to a $10 million average annual value during the pre-option portion of the contract, Chourio doesn’t even have to be very good for the Brewers to essentially break even from a dollars-for-performance standpoint. Chourio does have a little bit of hit tool risk as a prospect (I’ll talk about that in greater detail in a minute), but unless there are off-field or injury-related issues that crop up here, chances are that Chourio is going to outperform the value of his contract rather substantially during all but his two team option years. For Chourio, he’ll make much more money on the front end of his contract than he otherwise would have on a year-to-year pre-arb salary. He’s trading that security for the two below-market years of the deal that would otherwise have been the first two years of a free agent contract in 2030 and 2031. The value of his team option years will likely be closer to his open market AAV, and he’s young enough to net yet another big deal after those years are over if he plays as well as the industry tends to think he will.
Here is his ZiPS projection for the guaranteed life of the contract:
ZiPS Projection – Jackson Chourio
Chourio will likely end up ranked about fourth overall on my offseason Top 100 Prospects list, give or take a spot or two. After Jackson Holliday and the rookie-eligible Yoshinobu Yamamoto, you can start to argue about how to stack the next tier of prospects, including Chourio, James Wood, Dylan Crews, Wyatt Langford, Junior Caminero, and maybe one or two other guys. In addition to his remarkable surface-level statistical performance, here is how Chourio’s Statcast-style data compares to the average of the top 30 center fielders in the majors — keep in mind he was a 19-year-old at Double-A:
Chourio Statcast Data Comparison
|Avg Top 10% Exit
|Avg Starting CF
Chourio also checks most of the boxes from a visual scouting standpoint. He’s a plus-plus runner (routinely 4.10 from home to first, at times a jailbreak 4.00 seconds flat) who has grown into being a great center field defender even though the former second baseman has only played there full-time for two seasons and change. He also has plus-plus bat speed and is capable of putting balls into the seats to all fields. The length of his swing might make it tough for Chourio to catch up to major league velocity up around his hands and there’s a rigidity to the way his hands work that I don’t love, which is where the little bit of hit tool risk comes from. But Chourio’s talent is so electrifying that even if he’s a flawed contact hitter, he’s still going to do enough other stuff at a high level to be a star player.
Plus, it’s encouraging that Chourio’s strikeout rate has improved since early in 2022, when he first began using this high-octane swing. It’s possible he’s just getting better feel for this relatively new style of swinging over time and that everything will be fine. He’s also developed a more dynamic approach during the last two seasons and is now cutting out his leg kick with two strikes. Because he’s already shown the aptitude to make adjustments like this, we can expect that he’ll be able to shorten up his swing if it turns out he needs to. Again, whatever qualms I have with Chourio’s swing he makes up for with his bat speed (which enables him to smash fastballs he’s a bit late on toward the opposite field) and the power he generates on contact. The Baby Acuña comps are a little overzealous, as Chourio’s body and athletic style are much more tightly wound than Ronald Acuña Jr.’s. Indeed, from a build and swing standpoint, I think Bo Bichette is a more apt comparison.
Two anecdotes about Chourio that I think highlight his motor and competitiveness: In late March of 2022, I was at the Brewers complex in Maryvale to see two of their minor league spring training games against the Mariners. The energy level of a minor league matinee like this is usually pretty low, but Chourio was hellbent, flying around the bases and playing with an intensity that elevated the energy level of the entire game. The angle from which my camera is often positioned at this particular Brewers backfield captures what’s happening down the third base line, so I was able to get a portion of this on film. Chourio, of course, broke out in a profound way throughout the 2022 season.
The second story comes from this offseason. Chourio has played about three weeks’ worth of games in the Venezuelan Winter League, a look that has been part of my film study in preparation for offseason prospect content and, as it turns out, this piece. Several times during the last few weeks, when I imagine he was aware of and/or actively engaged in contract negotiations with the Brewers, Chourio has gone tilting, full speed, into outfield walls trying to make big plays for Aguilas del Zulia. Your mileage may vary as to whether or not this is telling or meaningful, but this guy brings it for the sake of bringing it, which reinforces the confidence I have in him turning into a foundational, face of the franchise player. Chourio will join a clubhouse full of other guys who do the same, as Joey Wiemer, Sal Frelick, Willy Adames, and others also play with their hair on fire.
This invites us to wonder whether that entire crew will still be around by Opening Day. Adames and Corbin Burnes trade rumors are in the internet zeitgeist, and the Brewers have more young outfielders than they have room to play. In addition to Yelich, Chourio, Frelick and Wiemer, Tyrone Taylor is entering arbitration and Garrett Mitchell returned from injury late in the year. I’d pref that group, from a talent standpoint, in the order I just listed them. The NL Central feels like it’s wide open — our too-early 2024 projection has the entire Central finishing within 10 games of one another and the offseason dust is far from settled. But if Chourio hits the ground running and provides more offense than guys like Mark Canha, Brian Anderson, and Wiemer did when Milwaukee won the division last year, it would go a long way to solidifying the Brewers’ position.