Jackson Chourio has shot to make immediate impact for Brewers

PHOENIX — When young Brewers phenom Jackson Chourio received the news he’d made the Opening Day roster a few days ago — and exactly one week after turning 20 — he and friends celebrated with a nice meal at North Scottsdale hot spot Mastro’s Ocean Grill.

But being just seven days past his teenage years, Chourio celebrated with soda pop — never mind that he will be sporting the name Brewers on his uniform — he’s the only one on the Brewers roster who can’t legally enjoy a beer. No matter, he’s riding a high thanks to his super accelerated career path.

The ascension was another huge moment for the prodigy who signed the biggest contract, by a lot, for a player who’s never played a game in the big leagues — his $82 million, eight-year deal dwarfed the previous record of $50M for White Sox star Luis Robert. The humble kid with the frequent smile, who’s played just eight games above Double-A, showed enough flashes of his amazing talent to secure the call.

“He’s a great athlete,” one NL scout said, “and he looks the part.”

Brewers’ Jackson Chourio arrives prior to a spring training baseball game against the Giants. AP

If the decision was mostly made to promote him the day they executed the deal that could take him almost all the way through his 20s, Chourio validated it with a solid spring despite some outfield misadventures — thanks to the Arizona sun, wind and sky, which can make a veteran look like a neophyte. In the game that began an hour after receiving the happy news from manager Pat Murphy, in fact, Chourio made a couple superb plays, but he also made two errors in right field. His bosses aren’t concerned one bit — they think he’s pressing a bit to prove his worth to teammates.

The contract that set a new standard for minor leaguers was many months in coming for the wunderkind, who rose all the way to No. 2 in prospect rankings. Talks started at $38M, and about four months later Chourio had a longer deal for more than twice the guarantee.

No one here begrudges him the Benjamins, as he’s not only an extraordinary talent — he hit 22 homers and stole 44 bases last year — but a pleasant young man who’s fitting in nicely. Chourio was seen sharing a hug with star shortstop Willy Adames after leaving Murphy’s office, the first sign of the noteworthy promotion the Brewers have yet to officially confirm.

A record contract can either inspire or petrify a kid, but there’s no worry in his case.

“I feel incredible about it, it’s definitely a blessing,” Chourio said through team interpreter Daniel de Mondesert, who doubles as a major league coach (a sacrifice of a small-market club.) “It’s definitely a more relaxed feeling about it. So now all I really need to do is demonstrate my abilities.”

The abilities are considerable, and Murphy told the media he could see Chourio starring right from the start, even though he is expected to be the youngest player in the majors — months younger than the Padres’ Jackson Merrill.

“If he hits the ground running, I wouldn’t be surprised,” Murphy said. “He’s going to be a good player. He’s got a bright future for sure.”

Brewers center fielder Jackson Chourio dives for a hit by the Reds’ Tyler Callihan during a recent spring training game. AP

In the meantime, there will be a few longs days where he shows flashes of brilliance while simultaneously revealing growing pains. On this day, he laid down a perfect bunt for a hit and made a spectacular throw to the plate to keep a baserunner at third base. But he also made those two errors.

“He’s got a long way to go,” Murphy a few minutes before promoting him to the majors. “We signed him for the future.”

Chourio, normally a center fielder with terrific speed and a gun for an arm, said after the adventures in the outfield that he’s still getting used to the corner outfield spots, and working hard at it as he’s expected to play all three positions. He won Rawlings Gold Gloves the past two years in the minors, but obviously the standards are higher up here. Asked if he’s looked better at any one of the three outfield spots, Murphy answered honestly, no.

After he overran one ball, playing a single into three bases, he attributed the error to “getting used to playing right,” but expressed faith it wouldn’t be long. “I know I have the talent to play any of the positions well,” he said. That may even go for second base and shortstop, as one scout saw him as a potential Mookie Betts type.

The Brewers obviously believe in him, agreeing to that record deal despite an elbow — which needs daily maintenance since suffering an injury at age 12 while pitching in a national championship game in Venezuela. The Brewers and the industry have stamped him “can’t miss.” He has the right attitude and all the tools to do great things, even if he has to curtail the celebrations another 51 weeks.

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