There is one number that stands out above all others for this year’s Carolina Mudcats.
It isn’t their 6-4 record or their 5.21 ERA. It isn’t Eduardo Garcia’s OPS checking in at .969 thus far or Hedbert Perez’ being at .510. It isn’t Jeferson Quero’s .344 batting average or Hendry Mendez’s 25% walk rate. It isn’t Israel Puello’s 6:1 strikeout to walk rate or the fact that 11 members of the roster are still to young to legally drink.
No. the most important number regarding the Mudcats is simply 15, the number of the Brewers’ own Latin American signings on the team’s opening day roster.
When the Brewers dipped their toe back into the Dominican Summer League by sharing a team with the Orioles in 2009, to say the team was devoid of prospect star power would be an understatement. The most successful Brewers alum off that team was probably Leonard Lorenzo, who was notable for actually reaching full season ball, even if he did post a 6.13 ERA in Wisconsin in his sole season there.
The following year wasn’t much better, with the best being a couple of guys like Jose Pena or Rolando Pascual who ended up topping out in High-A (and one, Rigoberto Almonte, who spent time in High-A before being demoted to the DSL).
It wasn’t until the 2011 debuts of Orlando Arcia, Angel Ventura and Jorge Ortega that the Brewers actually had a member of the DSL team who ended up reaching AA. At least, though, there was progress.
Then, however, it stagnated.
In 2013 only two of the Brewers’ top 20 prospects on MLB Pipeline were from the Brewers’ own Latin American signings. By 2015, it was three of the top 30 and by 2017 had fallen to just one of the top 30, the already falling Gilbert Lara.
And it was hurting the Brewers in relation to their NL Central peers. In 2017 the Reds and Pirates had five of their top 30 prospects from their own Latin American signings, but more noticeably, the Cubs and Cardinals had 10.
The number of Latin American signings making the low-A opening day rosters ticked up slightly as the years went on, rising from three or fewer from 2010-2014 to, with the exception of two spikes, four or five from 2015 to 2021. Even in the two spike years – nine in 2015 and eight in 2018 – it felt slightly hollow. None of those players were listed on MLB Pipeline’s top 30.
This year’s Carolina roster feels different.
Sure there are a few guys filling end of the bench or middle relief roles, but they are far from the majority. In what might be a first for any full season squad in the organization’s history, the first six spots in the batting order in the first two games were filled by the club’s own Latin American signings. And it’s a group that includes plenty of prospect star power, with Quero and Perez typically found among the organization’s top 10 prospects and Mendez and Garcia among the top 20, with Jheremy Vargas getting occasional mentions as well.
Miguel Segura, Alexander Cornielle and Edwin Jimenez also have a chance to become the first group of three of the Brewers’ Latin American signings to start 10 games at the Low-A level since the reintroduction of the DSL squad. Only twice have there been even two, and in one of those cases (2017 with Victor Diaz and Nattino Diplan) both of the pitchers were 23-year-olds in one of their final seasons of team control. Based on their youth and rookie ball success, you could argue that of those who came through the DSL complex, only Miguel Diaz and Abner Uribe entered full season ball with stronger prospect credentials than this trio.
All in all, the Brewers currently have 11 of their own Latin American signings among their top 30 prospects. It feels as if the hope of where they could get to when they reopened the DSL facility is finally within sight.
Now comes the tough part: Make sure this isn’t an anomaly. The numbers should stay high both because of the shorter draft and the strong performances by some of the recent signings. A mass substitution in a late spring training game that saw Jackson Chourio, Eduarqui Fernandez, Jadher Areinamo, Daniel Guilarte and Beyker Pastran enter with recent draft picks Quinton Low and Jace Avina seemed like a “say hello to the 2023 Carolina Mudcats event.” It wouldn’t be surprising to see Stiven Cruz, Domingo Mejia, Yujanyer Herrera and potentially a few others in the 2023 Mudcats rotation either.
But the goal isn’t just numbers, it is development success. And in that area, hopefully this season is just the beginning.