By: Brad Krause
Major League Baseball held their annual first-year player draft last week with thousands of young players selected during the three day event.
While trying to project what type of player a college or high school prospect can eventually become is extremely difficult, it’s even tougher on the international market, where players are signed as young as 16 years old to begin their professional careers.
In 2013, the Brewers inked then 16-year-old middle infielder Franly Mallen out of the Dominican Republic to a deal that included a reported $800,000 signing bonus; a record amount at the time for Milwaukee.
Though there were rumors of offers from other teams, the decision to sign with the Brewers was a fairly easy one for Mallen. “It was not that difficult of a decision” said Mallen. “I always liked the treatment I received from Milwaukee and decided to sign with them.”
After making the deal official in July of 2013, Mallen had to wait almost a full year before making his pro debut last season with the Brewers affiliate in the Dominican Summer League. There he appeared in 63 games, hitting .235 with 11 doubles and 38 runs scored as one of the youngest players in the entire league.
The Brewers brought Mallen stateside for Instructional League in the fall and he was back in Arizona this past March for Spring Training. The 6’1″ middle infielder from Sabana Grande de Palenque used his time wisely, gaining valuable instruction from Milwaukee’s coaching staff in the states.
“My trip to instructionals and spring training was a very wonderful experience where I could share with many people like (Biloxi Shuckers manager) Carlos Subero” said Mallen. “I was able to take away many positive things that will be able to help me in my career. Also, Bob Miscik who is an excellent infield coach who helped me to correct many things that I did wrong. In the Dominican it’s more to work on your tools and when you’re in Arizona is where you demonstrate what worked and you got better at in [the] Dominican.”
As the 2015 season approached, many of the players brought to the U.S. for spring training stayed in Arizona, but Milwaukee opted to send Mallen back to San Pedro de Macoris for another season in the DSL. The move was made for several reasons. Not only would it allow Mallen to continue his schooling at the Brewers academy in the Dominican, but it would also allow him to continue to learn another position as well.
Like many young Dominican baseball players, Mallen grew up watching Hanley Ramirez and emulating the former All-Star shortstop. Like Ramirez, Mallen also began his pro career as a shortstop, but after committing 28 errors in 60 games at the position the Brewers decided to give him some work at second base as well. “It’s a major difference” said Mallen. “At second base the game is slower than at shortstop because the shortstop has to be more awake and have more focus. The team asked me to work on the things in the field, in games, the same way as in practice, and they made the decision to send me to the Dominican to make these things work.”
The decision has paid off so far, as Mallen has gotten off to a terrific start to the season, batting .314 with seven doubles and a home run while being the only player to see action in each of the Brewers first 13 games this year. He leads the team in doubles, walks and runs scored, and is near the top in most offensive categories.
“I believe that I improved my defense” said Mallen, “I saw a great improvement in it and I hope to God to continue to improve day after day and improve my glove as well as my work around the base and my angles. For this season I have many goals. I want to have the best batting average on my team and, God willing, the league. I just want to have a good defensive and offensive season. I want to be someone my teammates look up to and try to help as much as I can.”
Mallen has done his part so far and is considered one of the team’s leaders despite his young age. He remains one of the youngest players on the Brewers DSL roster, having just turned 18 on May 27th and only outfielder Adolfo Morillo (who turns 18 in September) and shortstop Javier Castillo (who won’t turn 18 until next April) are younger.
There’s still a long way to go, but the strides Mallen has made from year one to year two have been impressive and make him worth keeping an eye on as a Brewers prospect with a bright future ahead of him.