Chourio sets sights on Opening Day after record deal

December 4th, 2023

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- After committing to the largest contract in history for a player who’s never stepped foot in the Major Leagues, Brewers GM Matt Arnold fished out his cell phone. He showed a photo of Jackson Chourio at 12 years old, when he first caught the eye of Milwaukee scouts.

What can you learn about a player at age 12?

“When he’s the best player on the field,” Arnold said, “that helps.”

Chourio was a gangly shortstop then, before a balky right elbow pushed him to the outfield. Now, at 19, he’s positioned to be the Brewers’ Opening Day center fielder after inking a record-setting contract that guarantees $82 million over the next eight seasons and could top out as high as $142.5 million over 10 years -- depending on whether Chourio develops into the sort of MVP-caliber player Milwaukee believes he has the potential to be.

When the club announced the contract on Monday morning at the Winter Meetings, Arnold’s statement left no doubt. He called Chourio "a generational talent who has all the tools to be the face of our franchise.”

That would put Chourio on a short list, with the likes of Hank Aaron (who returned to Milwaukee at the end of his career to play for the fledgling Brewers), Robin Yount (who debuted as an 18-year-old and played all 20 of his big league seasons with the Brewers) and two more recent players in Ryan Braun and Christian Yelich, who earned nine-figure contracts with Milwaukee.

Arnold believes Chourio could be next because he has passed every test the Brewers have put in front of him. In 2022, one year after signing with Milwaukee out of Maracaibo, Venezuela, Chourio was the youngest player in the Single-A Carolina League, then the youngest player in the High-A Midwest League, then the youngest player in the Double-A Southern League. He finished with an .880 OPS.

In 2023, Chourio ascended to No. 2 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 prospects list, backing up the hype with a career-high 22 home runs, 43 stolen bases and an .805 OPS as one of a handful of teenagers in the Southern League. For the second straight season, Chourio was named the Brewers' Minor League Player of the Year (he shared the '23 honor with fellow prospect Tyler Black).

To finish the year, Chourio slashed .379/.453/.530 with only eight strikeouts in 75 plate appearances in the Venezuelan Winter League, where Brewers coach Nestor Corredor was his manager with the Águilas Del Zulia.

By then, Milwaukee and Chourio were well into contract negotiations.

“Every challenge that we presented to him, he’s always excelled,” said Chourio’s agent, Cesar Suarez, who has known Chourio since he was 11 years old at Suarez’s academy in Venezuela. “When he was 12, I put him with the 14-year-olds. When he was 14, with the 16-year-olds."

As Arnold put it, “He’s got that ‘it’ factor.”

Among the Brewers’ officials who were on hand for Chourio’s press conference at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center were Taylor Green, a special assistant for scouting and international player development, and executive advisor to the GM Matt Klentak, who handled much of the negotiations. A particularly proud observer was director of international player evaluation Luis Pérez, one of two scouts, with Fernando Veracierto, who went to bat for Chourio before Milwaukee signed him in 2021.

Pérez called it a “very proud” day and said, “Jackson has proven to be mature in any challenges he has had during his career, and I don’t think he will change the way he plays.”

Said Veracierto: “Jackson will face the challenge with no fear. He is a humble kid, a warrior. I’m sure he will lead our organization on and off the field.”

Chourio knows there’s a spotlight on him. He’s only the sixth player to get a multiyear guarantee from a club before debuting in MLB.

“There’s definitely a little bit of pressure on this, but I’m just going to work hard to get the best on the field,” Chourio said. “This money is not going to change me. If something changes, it will definitely be for the better.”

Chourio choked up when he talked about those who helped him reach Monday’s milestone, including his father, also named Jackson Chourio, and his younger brothers -- including Jaison Chourio, who plays in the Cleveland organization. An even younger brother, Jame Antony Chourio, is already an up-and-coming prospect himself.

“I want to be an example for them,” Chourio said of his brothers.

Veracierto, one of the scouts, already has plans to travel to New York in late March, with the Brewers scheduled to play the Mets at Citi Field on Opening Day.

Milwaukee has a crowded outfield picture at the moment, with Yelich in left field and recently graduated prospects Garrett Mitchell, Sal Frelick and Joey Wiemer -- all capable center fielders -- just getting started in their Major League careers. But with his new contract, Chourio jumped to the top of the organizational depth chart at that position.

“Nothing [is] guaranteed, but he’ll have every opportunity to make our Opening Day team,” Arnold said.

Said Suarez: “I think he has a very good chance, but he has to earn it a little bit, you know? I don’t think they’re going to give it to him. Just come to Spring Training like you’re a starter [and earn it]. He’s going to do it. We know the talents.” 

What does Chourio think?

“We are working really hard to be there on Opening Day,” he said.