The Milwaukee Brewers are at a crossroads with catcher Jacob Nottingham this offseason.
During the 2020 season, the Brewers finally got a little more of an extended look at catching prospect Jacob Nottingham. He was a highly regarded offensive catching prospect when acquired in 2016, but has struggled since.
Once Manny Pina went down with a knee injury, Nottingham was recalled to back up Omar Narvaez, although with Narvaez’s own offensive struggles, Nottingham saw a good chunk of playing time over the final six weeks of the season.
In each of the previous two seasons, Nottingham was only called up as an extra catcher in September and played in just nine games, never totaling more than 20 ABs at the big league level. In 2020, Nottingham got 48 ABs, which still isn’t a huge sample size, but the relatively long look at him behind the plate was insightful.
The Jacob Nottingham Decision
The problem with Nottingham is that he struggles offensively. In his 2020 season, Nottingham hit just .188/.278/.458 with his slugging percentage buoyed by four home runs. He also struck out 20 times in just 48 at-bats. That’s a 37% strikeout rate, which is not ideal.
In the minors, Nottingham has also struggled to find offensive consistency, hitting just .231 with a sub-.700 OPS in 2019 at Triple-A. He had a pretty good year in 2018, but that was also in the hitters paradise that was Colorado Springs.
The raw power is there, but Nottingham has struggled to make contact enough to use it.
The Brewers are approaching an important decision on Jacob Nottingham, as he no longer has any minor league options.
The 2020 audition might be the final one for Nottingham with the Brewers. He’s had three years of being right on the edge of the big leagues and making a few scarce appearances, and now he is out of minor league options.
With Manny Pina likely to return next year for his final year of arbitration and Omar Narvaez under team control, Nottingham once again appears set to be the third catcher and with rosters going back to 26 players next year, the odds of the Brewers keeping three catchers in the big leagues are small.
There’s a chance the Brewers could choose to non-tender Narvaez after his own poor 2020 season, but if they were to do so, that would likely be in search of an upgrade at the position, not a move to Nottingham. Narvaez at least has a four year track record of offensive success in the big leagues, so there’s better odds he’ll be a productive hitter in 2021 than Nottingham, who doesn’t have that kind of track record.
The Brewers know that Narvaez can hit, but they do not know that Nottingham can. I think it’s an extremely unlikely scenario that Nottingham enters next season as the No. 1 or No. 2 catcher on the depth chart.
Since he’s out of options, if the Brewers want to send him down to the minors in 2021, they would have to designate him for assignment and put him on waivers, which would leave him susceptible to being claimed by another team. If he’s claimed, the Brewers lose him for nothing.
GM David Stearns has a decision to make on Nottingham this offseason. Should he trade Nottingham now and try to get at least something in return for a player who is unlikely to make his 26 man roster next year? Should he hold on to him just in case an injury happens next year and risk losing him on waivers? Should he clear the way for Nottingham to play more often?
Nottingham got a little bit longer look this year, and the results probably didn’t move the needle very much. His tenure with the Brewers might be coming to an end with Stearns choosing one of those first two paths.
He’s going to turn 26 years old early next season, and it might be time for a change of scenery.