The Milwaukee Brewers Catching Conundrum


Remember a while back, when Jonathan Lucroy was injured so George Kottaras and rookie Martin Maldonado stepped into the catching role full-time? Remember when Lucroy got back, we all agreed that we didn’t need three catchers on the roster?

About that. The Milwaukee Brewers technically have zero – as in none – catchers on the roster going into Spring Training. That’s because Jonathan Lucroy was selected to play for Team USA, and Maldonado for Puerto Rico, in the World Baseball Classic. Neither of these players will be with Milwaukee during the beginning of Spring Training, as they are working with their respective national clubs.

While this didn’t exactly blindside the Brewers, it’s still a setback heading into the all important reporting of pitchers and catchers – a tradition which kicks off in just about a fortnight.

Who are the people who will be helping the Brewers hurlers prepare for the 2013 season?

In short, it will be a plethora of Non-Roster Invitees – not wholly uncommon during Spring Training. A lot of pitchers are going to be reporting as well, and even if they wanted to they couldn’t all throw with Jonathan Lucroy as the backstop. But it is a little different that none of them will be able to work with the starting catcher.

Instead, the following players will be taking on the bulk of the work at the beginning of the Cactus League in 2013:

Dayton Buller – In the Brewers Minor League system since 2010, last season with the Nashville Sounds (AAA). .241/.329/.372 lifetime in the Minor Leagues. Slim chance of making the team, but has the added benefit of being able to build a relationship with the pitchers who will be reassigned to higher Minor League levels.

Anderson De La Rosa – In the Minor Leagues since 2004, nearly all of it inside the Brewers system. He has spent the last three years in Hunstville with the class-AA Stars. De La Rosa has only climbed to AAA once, for 12 games in 2010. Another (very) long shot for making the roster.

Blake Lalli– Lalli spent six games in The Show last season with the Chicago

Blake Lalli has the best chance of all the NRIs to make the cut. Even then, it’s a pretty slim chance. (Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports)

Cubs, but we won’t hold that against him. We picked him up in the off-season to strengthen our catching core in the Minor Leagues. By all contemporary standards, Blake is ready for the big time – a career Minor League slash line of .296/.357/.416 over 665 Minor League Games, Lalli should be the first one called up should anything happen either Maldonado or Lucroy. Building a rapport with both Major League and Minor League pitchers is going to be crucial for him during Spring Training.

Rafael Neda – I got the chance to see Neda play a handful of times during his stint last year with the Midwest League Champion Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, so excuse my bias when I say I really like this kid. Rafael Neda is also one of the youngest of all the NRI catchers – having only been in professional baseball since 2010. His numbers aren’t there offensively, but I like his hustle on the bases and I can see him improving with a few more seasons under his belt. He won’t make the team this year, but he could be moving up and the experience in the Cactus League ill certainly help his growth.

Adam Weisenburger – Another one of the youngsters in the NRI catchers, Adam started in the Arizona Rookie League in 2011, and went to Brevard County and Huntsville the following year. Put up great numbers in the Rookie League and with the Manatees, but doesn’t project much power. He slid miserably during a half-season in Huntsville, but the team obviously sees some development in him. Weisenburger is here to gain a little more experience, and probably little else.

Last year, Martin Maldonado was in a similar position with Milwaukee’s pitching staff. This year, it is his absence that is giving another catcher a chance at Major League experience(Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports)

It’s difficult to know what effect the slew of catchers coming in would do to the pitching staff in the Milwaukee Brewers. It’s difficult for pitchers to work with a multitude of different catchers, because every one works a little differently in terms of framing pitches, blocking, movement, and the way they call a game.

There are a few schools of thoughts here: one saying that the pitchers are going to be at a deficit because they won’t be working with Major League caliber catchers. The idea is that the pitching will be uncomfortable, or even off-pace because the relationships will not be there with Lucroy and Maldonado to begin the regular season.

The other thought is: who cares? There’s no guarantee that both Team USA and Puerto Rico will be in the tournament forever, and once they are out the players  will report quickly back to their respective clubs. Furthermore baseball players must, as a general rule, become accustomed to change. Players move through the system quickly sometimes, and your catcher on Tuesday may not be your catcher on the following Monday. While there is something to be said about relationships and consistency, there is much more to be said about a player’s ability to adapt.

Personally, I belong in the other school of thought. When Lucroy went don, the pitchers adjusted. Many of these pitchers would be working with Non-Roster Invitees for a bulk of their training anyways, now it’s just translated into the games as well as during drills. I think it’s a fun opportunity to get to know the Non-Roster Invitees, but being concerned about it is likely more trouble than it’s worth.

Just don’t expect any of these catchers in the Brewers Blue come Opening Day.