The Brewers are in a rebuild mode. As we know, much of the 40 man roster has been turned over. In fact, of the current 40 man roster, 14 of those players were not in the Brewers organization on August 15th of last year. Catcher Jonathan Lucroy has said earlier this winter that he does not like losing, stating, “Rebuilding is not a lot of fun for any veteran guy.”
Nobody can blame him for his thoughts on the potential harsh season ahead right? In the same interview, he also went on to say “If I stay with the Brewers, I’m not going to go out and dog it.” But what happens to the Brewers if he doesn’t remain with the team? While he will continue to play hard and give it his best, because that is the right thing to do, many believe he will not be a Brewer for very long. There have already been several rumors circulating about how and when Lucroy will be traded. The thing is who will replace him, both now and in the future for the Brewers?
2012 1st Round Draft Pick Clint Coulter spent three seasons as a minor league catcher before converting to the outfield, so he is out of the picture. Aside from him, the Brewers farm system has not had a whole lot of great options in recent years when it comes to guys who could log innings behind the plate. Some of the players who have spent time at Triple-A catching over the last few years include Paul Phillips, Robinzon Diaz, Anderson de la Rosa, Dayton Buller, Lucas May and Shawn Zarraga. None of those guys may seem like much to write home about. Some are out of baseball altogether, but all have exited the Brewers’ system.
Looking at who could help the team now, this offseason the Brewers acquired 28-year-old Manny Pina from the Tigers in exchange for Francisco Rodriguez. Pina has largely been a minor leaguer since his professional debut in 2005. At the plate, he shows just a bit of pop, topping out at nine homers and 49 RBI for his career best. He is projected to hit around .256 if he were to play a full season, and he is not a huge strikeout machine or defensive liability. His career on base in the minors is .326.
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A more attractive option to see big league time is probably Josmil Pinto. 27-year-old Pinto has claimed off waivers from the Padres this offseason. One plus is that Josmil has seen more big league experience than Pina. When given playing time, Pinto has shown he can do good things. In 2013, he hit 19 home runs and had 86 RBI with a .314 Batting Average between the majors and the minors. Over his career, Josmil’s fielding percentage is a bit worse than Pina’s, but Josmil does have a higher career on-base percentage. Because he is a younger guy with a bit more pop and potential, Josmil looks to be a guy the Brewers could give some time to should Lucroy exit the team in one way or another.
The most highly touted name among all catchers of the future is 20-year-old Jacob Nottingham. Acquired in the Khris Davis trade with the Athletics, Jacob has already picked the brain of catchers who have been in the bigs before, such as Lucroy. Jacob
, “I’ve been asking a lot of questions — almost probably bugging him. I’m just trying to get everything I can out of him. From the first day, ‘Luc’ told me, ‘Ask as many questions as you can. Don’t be scared.”
Jacob has shown the ability to turn heads. In 2015, he had 17 homers and 82 RBI with a .316 average and a .372 On Base Percentage, although it was just A ball. He has not even eclipsed his 21st birthday, but the Brewers have to feel good about a bonafide catching prospect because Nottingham may just be the first real one since Angel Salome. Salome was a highly touted prospect who came up through the system around the same time as Lucroy, but Angel is doing nothing for the Brewers or any organization for that matter. He turned out to be a complete bust.
If and when Lucroy gets traded, there seem to be some friendly options out there within the organization. Realistically, having Maldonado start every day down the stretch is probably not the answer. If Lucroy is unavailable with injury or trade, the Brewers will take a look at Pinto or Pina, or maybe even 26-year-old Rene Garcia, a man who signed as a free agent over the winter. With Nottingham a couple of years away, at least, I would feel better if the Brewers signed a crusty old veteran to log some innings at Triple-A just in case of an injury or trade. In years past, the Brewers have acquired Yorvit Torrealba and Humberto Quintero to serve as organizational depth. While I like it when the Brewers “get a look at a guy” I also feel like an older veteran who can call a game and has experience is not a bad guy to have stockpiled at Triple-A on a minor league deal just in case. Keith Osik, Paul Bako, Gregg Zaun, Pat Borders and Mike Rivera should apply if they can shake off some cobwebs.
The Brewers catching system of “prospects” still seems to be a bit bare beyond Nottingham, but at least with Pinto, Pina or even Garcia, there are some capable backups available, even if Maldonado himself were to be traded or released! While I would like the Brewers to continue to work on “stockpiling the shelves” in the catching aspect of the game, they are making progress compared to some of the names that were available as catchers in the past.