What to know about Jackson Chourio and his new big-league contract

Jackson Chourio will now figure prominently into the 2024 plans for the Milwaukee Brewers season after he signed a big-league extension that could keep him in Milwaukee for the next 10 years. He signed an eight-year, $82 million deal with Milwaukee (with two team options thereafter), even though he hasn't appeared in a single Major League game.

Chourio rapidly became the No. 1 prospect in the Brewers organization in 2023 and developed into one of the three best overall in Major League Baseball. The outfielder from Venezuela was signed by Milwaukee in January of 2021 for a $1.9 million contract at age 16.

Here's what to know about a player that the Brewers are banking on becoming a superstar.

How old is Jackson Chourio?

Chourio's age has been a constant talking point as he's delivered back-to-back seasons in which he was named Brewers minor league player of the year. He's done this at age 18 and 19, and he turns 20 on March 11. That's right, a Brewers are going to have a key member of their team who was born in 2004. A major part of his ascension has been thriving at minor-league levels where he's the youngest player in the entire league.

Does this contract mean Jackson Chourio will definitely make the big-league roster to start 2024?

Almost certainly. You don't pay that kind of money for guys to play in the minors.

A big-league contract not only demonstrates that the Brewers are committed to putting Chourio on the big-league roster, it also removes the temptation for "service-time manipulation" that often comes with top minor-league prospects.

Teams are often accused of keeping an MLB-ready player in the minors longer to avoid starting their service-time clock. Delaying a top talent's debut could pay dividends down the road and give the team an extra year with the player before he's accrued enough service time to become a free agent.

But Chourio's path to free agency is now locked in (and, by nature of the contract, delayed by a couple years compared to where it would have been otherwise), so the Brewers have already achieved (and then some) the goal service-time manipulation would seek, in an above-board fashion.

Brewers general manager Matt Arnold didn't commit to Chourio as a member of the opening day roster just yet and said nothing in the contract insisted on it happening. Arnold also said he didn't see Chourio locked in as a center fielder going forward.

As an aside, MLB has sought to combat service-time manipulation by offering an incentive to teams where eligible top prospects can net the team a draft pick if they're on the opening-day roster and wind up winning Rookie of the Year. The Brewers could still get that compensation if Chourio wins that award, even though he's essentially shielded from service-time manipulation now.

Milwaukee Brewers prospect Jackson Chourio takes batting practice during minor league workouts at American Family Fields of Phoenix on March 6, 2023.
Milwaukee Brewers prospect Jackson Chourio takes batting practice during minor league workouts at American Family Fields of Phoenix on March 6, 2023.

What are Jackson Chourio's statistics in the minor leagues?

This past season with most of his work at Class AA Biloxi, Chourio hit 22 homers, drove in 91 runs and stole 44 bases. He posted an .805 OPS, but that number belies how strong he was after a slow start to the season. From April 22 onward, it's an .822 OPS. Starting in July — when the Southern League did away with an experiment using a "tacky ball" that was designed to increase pitcher grip and seemed to depress offense around the league — Chourio posted an OPS of .894.

At the end of the season, he saw six games of action at Class AAA, going 7-for-21 with three doubles, two walks, four runs scored and just one strikeout. He makes outstanding quality of contact, a feature that has made him stand out at every level.

Through three minor-league seasons, including only two full seasons with his 2021 campaign in the Dominican Summer League lasting only 45 games, Chourio has hit .286 with a .837 OPS, 47 homers and 68 stolen bases.

Did we mention he's lightning-fast and can play center field admirably, to the tune of winning a Minor League Gold Glove in 2022?

Do 20-year-olds typically struggle to start their big league career?

Not really.

Going back a decade, there are 10 different MLB seasons in which a player was 19 or 20 years old playing at least half his team's games; Juan Soto counts twice because he played as a 19- and 20-year-old with Washington. Only two of those seasons — Jurickson Profar with Texas in 2013 and Rougned Odor of Texas in 2014 — resulted in an OPS-plus below 100 (regarded as league average), with Odor at 93 and Profar at 77.

Most players were well above average, topping out with Fernando Tatis Jr. of San Diego (age 20 in 2019) at a .969 OPS and 154 OPS-plus over 84 games. The others:

  • Manny Machado, 2013 (Baltimore), 102 OPS-plus, .746 OPS and league-leading 51 doubles in 156 games.

  • Juan Soto, 2019 (age 20 with Washington), 142 OPS-plus, .949 OPS, 34 homers, 110 RBIs, .401 on-base percentage, led Nationals to World Series title in 150 games.

  • Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 2019 (Toronto), 106 OPS-plus, .772 OPS, 15 homers in 123 games.

  • Bryce Harper, 2013 (Washington), 133 OPS-plus, .854 OPS, 20 homers, .368 on-base percentage in 118 games.

  • Juan Soto, 2018 (age 19 in Washington), 142 OPS-plus, .923 OPS, 22 homers, 70 RBIs in 116 games.

  • Ronald Acuña Jr., 2018 (Atlanta), 143 OPS-plus, .917 OPS, 26 homers, 16 stolen bases, .366 on-base percentage, NL Rookie of the Year in 111 games.

  • Carlos Correa, 2015 (Houston), 135 OPS-plus, .857 OPS, 22 homers, AL Rookie of the Year in 99 games.

Obviously, that's a list of superstars, many of whom are on a Hall of Fame track. Harper won the Rookie of the Year at age 19 in 2012, the same year 20-year-old Mike Trout won the award for the Angels in the American League. That year, Trout led the league with a 168 OPS-plus.

Going back a few years opens the door for more success stories, like Giancarlo Stanton with the Marlins, Jason Heyward with Atlanta and Starlin Castro with the Cubs, all in 2010. There aren't many cautionary tales in that stretch, at least among players who were able to play more than half the season. Rubén Tejada of the Mets played 78 games as a 20-year-old in 2010 with the Mets and struggled, en route to a below-average career, but if you're looking for examples of players who were promoted at such a young age and asked to sink or swim, then sank, you have to strain to find them.

But not every deal has worked out for a player who signs before he gets to the big leagues, like Jon Singleton

One of the feel-good stories from 2023 for the Brewers was the arrival of Jon Singleton, who made his first big-league appearance in a whopping eight years when he got into 11 games for Milwaukee. He struggled, however, and oddly enough wound up playing in the postseason with Houston, the team that developed him after acquiring him as a minor-leaguer in 2011.

Singleton made the big leagues in 2014 with a forgettable first season at age 22, then briefly appeared in 2015.

What made Singleton unique was the 5-year, $10 million contract he signed in 2014 before he had seen one Major League at-bat. Other players to sign long-term extensions before their big-league debuts include White Sox star outfielder Luis Robert, Mariners first baseman Evan White, White Sox slugger Eloy Jiménez and Phillies infielder Scott Kingery, with mixed results.

Robert's deal of six years and $50 million served as the record for a player who had yet to appear in the majors prior to Chourio's contract.

Still others like Matt Moore and Evan Longoria of the Rays, Salvador Perez of the Royals and, more recently, Corbin Carroll of the Diamondbacks, signed before achieving 50 days of big-league service time, and those deals have all paid dividends. Another 20-year-old, Wander Franco of Tampa Bay, signed in 2021 with 104 days of service time to an 11-year, $182 million extension and appeared to be on a superstar track, though his long-term future in baseball is cloudy while MLB investigates him for a relationship with a minor.

The Brewers signed Ryan Braun in May 2008 to an eight-year, $45 million extension after just more than one year of big-league service time.

Jackson Chourio has barely played above Class AA; are we sure he's special?

Nothing is ever certain, of course. But Chourio has been doing things that only the top tier of baseball players have done at his age.

The biggest development in 2023 for Chourio was the advancement of his bat-to-ball skills. He has always had great feel for the barrel in his swing but was still prone to in-zone whiffs and poor swing decisions from time to time. Chourio struck out in just 12.5% of plate appearances over his final 68 games, which came after he often struggled with Southern League pitchers attacking him with breaking pitches low and away throughout the first two months of the season.

Chourio shows an ability to learn and adapt to new levels on the fly. As the youngest player at the Class AA level, his battles with swing decisions and pitch recognition against by far the best quality of breaking balls he’d ever seen in his life were evident — even despite the regular flashes of electricity from his bat. Over the second half of the season, Chourio posted a .931 OPS and struck out only 36 times.

Don't the Brewers already have a bunch of outfielders?

Chourio's presence creates some new questions for the Brewers, who already head into 2024 with a bevy of outfield options like Christian Yelich, Tyrone Taylor, Sal Frelick, Joey Wiemer and Garrett Mitchell. The latter three were rookie-eligible in 2023 and still in the very early stages of their big-league careers.

Mitchell, who was hurt for most of the 2023 season, seemed like the obvious fit for center field on opening day before the Chourio news, and both Wiemer and Frelick played the position admirably in Mitchell's stead. Even if the team elects to move Yelich to first base — something the team hasn't openly discussed — it would still have a logjam of options. Assuming health, the club will need to find some creative solutions.

This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: What to know about Brewers phenom Jackson Chourio