WASHINGTON -- The Brewers set a franchise record for a Latin American signing bonus twice over on Tuesday, agreeing to terms with 16-year-old Dominicans Franly Mallen and Nicolas Pierre to contracts worth $800,000 apiece as baseball's international signing period began.
Mallen, a shortstop, was No. 22 on MLB.com's list of the top international prospects, and Pierre, a center fielder, ranked No. 28. The Brewers also reported agreements with Panamian catcher Johel Atencio, Dominican shortstop Henry Correa and Venezuelan right-hander Nelson Hernandez.
All of those contracts were pending physical exams, as well as the standard Major League Baseball age investigation. All five players are listed at 16 years old and will begin their professional careers at the Brewers' academy in San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic, though they will not be eligible to play in that nation's summer league until next year.
Brewers general manager Doug Melvin confirmed that the bonuses awarded Mallen and Pierre topped the $750,000 given pitcher Rolando Pascual in 2005, during a period in which the Brewers closed their Latin American academy and focused on signing fewer, but higher-profile players. Pascual topped out at Class A-Advanced Brevard County in 2011 and is now out of organized ball.
"Maybe in the past we wouldn't have gone this high with players, but we like these guys, the positions they play and the ability they have," Melvin said. "I put a lot of trust into [Brewers director of Latin American scouting ] Manny Batista. He's signed a lot of Major League players."
Batista took over the team's international scouting efforts in a reorganization last year, and works alongside director of Latin American operations Eduardo Brizuela. The team also sent special assistant Dan O'Brien to scout Latin American players over the past year.
Melvin said the Brewers' expenditures reflected the cost of doing business and the team's interest in these specific players, and not a shift in organizational strategy or a reaction to not having a first-round pick in last month's First-Year Player Draft.
Mallen, a 6-foot-1, 160-pounder, is a gap hitter with speed and power potential who hails from the baseball-rich city of San Cristobal in the Dominican Republic.
Pierre's full name is Nicolas Pierre Figueroa. He stands 6-foot-3, weighs 170 pounds and has the speed and instincts to stick as a center fielder.
Atencio, the catcher, received a $130,000 bonus, according to Baseball America. He is a 5-foot-10, 180-pound right-handed hitter.
Under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Brewers had $2,227,300 to spend on international players. Under new rules in baseball's Collective Bargaining Agreement, each team is allotted a $700,000 base, plus four additional slot values based on its record the previous season. That pool money is tradable for the first time.
As always, there are exemptions. Clubs can sign six players for bonuses of $50,000 or less, and those do not count against the allotment. All bonuses of $10,000 or less are also exempt.
The international signing guidelines do not apply to players who previously signed a contract with a Major or Minor League club, nor do they apply to players who are least 23 years old and have played as a professional in a league recognized by the Commissioner's Office for a minimum of five seasons (thus, Norichika Aoki's two-year, $2.5 million contract last year does not count). Cuban players who are at least 23 and have played in a Cuban professional league for three or more seasons are also exempt.
Teams' pools range from just under $4.25 million for the Astros, who had the Majors' lowest winning percentage last year, to just under $1.15 million for the Nationals, who had the highest winning percentage. The Brewers ranked 16th.
Batista was formerly a Rangers scout and nearly signed Francisco Rodriguez for $40,000 in July 1998, Rodriguez said Tuesday. But Rodriguez opted instead to pitch for the Venezuelan national team in tournaments in Mexico and the U.S. and parlayed five strong outings on that trip into a $1 million bonus with the Angels in September.
Other international signees on the Brewers' current roster include pitcher Wily Peralta, whom the Brewers signed for $450,000 in November 2005; shortstop Jean Segura, who got $70,000 from the Angels in January 2007; and center fielder Carlos Gomez, who got $60,000 from the Mets in July 2002. Gomez said he had already purchased land in the Dominican Republic with plans to open an academy for amateur prospects.
Braun likely out until after All-Star break
WASHINGTON -- Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun was encouraged after swinging the bat Tuesday, but the Brewers remain prepared to play without him until after the All-Star break.
"I think the way we're heading and the way it's looking, I would say that's a good possibility," manager Ron Roenicke said before Braun took those encouraging swings. "Unless things change in a hurry, where he swings and the next day there's no pain, and he swings again and now we can accelerate that. But it doesn't look like it's going to be that way."
That remained the case after a 4-0 win over the Nationals, though Roenicke had some hope. Braun has been on the disabled list since June 14 with an irritated nerve between his right thumb and forefinger.
"We're making progress with it," Roenicke said. "We're still not there, but we'll see [Wednesday] a lot more. The last time he did it, the next day he was sore."
Braun's swings took place in the batting cages below Nationals Park. It was the first time he'd picked up a bat in a week.
"Just dry swings. I didn't hit in the cage or anything, but it was good. I felt good," Braun said. "Definitely progress from last time, and that's encouraging. We'll see where it's at [Wednesday], and then check in and see what the game plan is."
Pressed for a timetable, Braun said, "I really don't know. There's no plan. I would imagine there would be a process and a progression I'll have to go through to even get close to that point. But everything else is fine. I'm in shape and ready to play. I just have to get to the point where it's not pain free, but it's better than it was.
"I have an open mind, for sure. As soon as it feels good, I'm playing."
Segura, Gomez get break from starting lineup
WASHINGTON -- Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said he had no choice Tuesday but to sit his two most productive hitters, saying shortstop Jean Segura and center fielder Carlos Gomez both needed a day to rest nagging ailments.
Segura, the Brewers' two-hole hitter and leading candidate for the National League All-Star team, has been playing with a sore right thumb and was scheduled to take Tuesday off. Gomez returned last week from a left shoulder injury.
"To take two guys out of the Nos. 2 and 3 hole, that's not something I wanted to do," Roenicke said. "I talked to Gomez yesterday before the game and said I needed to do it some time, [because] he's pretty sore. Watching him [Monday, when Gomez went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts], I probably should have done it yesterday. So, he needs it today, and [Segura] needs it, too.
"We're trying to get them back healthy. They're both such an important part of our lineup this year."
That lineup is currently without usual three-hole hitter Ryan Braun, who is on the disabled list with a right hand injury, and projected five-hole hitter Corey Hart, who is out for the year with knee injuries. Cleanup hitter Aramis Ramirez continues to play on a left knee that is far short of 100 percent.
Roenicke did not expect Segura's or Gomez's ailments to cost them significant playing time. Gomez spoke to reporters Tuesday with a device attached to his shoulder delivering electric pulses to the muscles around the joint. He said he expended to return to action on Wednesday.
"It's getting better, but it's still sore," Roenicke said. "It's not just the hitting, it's when he gets on base and he has to slide. I don't know if you guys have noticed, but he's been sliding feet first. To have to try to change his game to continue to go out there when it's sore, we thought it was best that we give him a day."
Brewers' offense hasn't been running in 2013
WASHINGTON -- Manager Ron Roenicke lamented Tuesday that his Brewers don't work walks and have trailed so much lately that they've not been able to run when they do reach base.
This is not the brand of baseball Roenicke would like to play. Take leadoff man Norichika Aoki, who had nine stolen bases in his first 77 games this season after stealing 30 bases in 151 games in 2012.
"Our starting pitching staff, because they haven't pitched like we thought, we're behind, 3-0, 5-0, and right off the bat, I'm looking at these thinking, 'I would like him to steal right here, but if he's thrown out, we're already down, 5-0, and I can't have him thrown out,'" Roenicke said. "So, I have put the red light on [Aoki] more this year -- a lot more -- than I did last year.
"Circumstances, the way we're playing, it doesn't allow us to have the freedom to run like I would like to run. I know I think we need it in our offense, to do those things. But we just can't afford to do that."
Even with those red lights, the Brewers entered Tuesday tied for second in the Majors with 62 stolen bases. But they are well behind their pace from 2012, when the Brewers led the Majors with 158 steals in 162 games.
One factor: Entering Tuesday's games, the Brewers were last in the Majors with 183 walks.
"That's been an issue, really, since I got here," Roenicke said. "Prince [Fielder] was a big walker, and that year , I think Ryan [Braun] had a lot of walks. Since then, we don't walk. It's just the team that you have, and you can't tell a guy, 'You need to walk.' What you hope to tell them is to swing at the pitch you want to swing at, not the one the pitcher wants you to swing at. Walks happen if you do it that way."
Roenicke actually praised two prospects for their strikeout-to-walk rates: Class A-Advanced Brevard County's Mitch Haniger and Class A Wisconsin's Tyrone Taylor.