Brewers fans who have been waiting to see an appearance by catcher Jacob Nottingham this spring finally got their wish on Sunday. When the lineup for the team’s Cactus League matchup against the Mariners was released, the backstop was found in the nine-hole playing designated hitter.
Like many players going through their first spring training game of the season, Nottingham expectedly had some rust to shake off. Both of his first two at bats on the day ended up resulting in strikeouts.
That would be all the time he would need to settle in, though. Because in the seventh inning, Nottingham collected his first hit, run, and RBI of 2021’s spring training in very loud fashion.
It was a long-awaited debut for Nottingham after offseason thumb surgery over the winter delayed his start to spring training. Sunday’s start at DH was the first step to his return and, according to Adam McCalvy of MLB.com, his final step to a full comeback is right around the corner as well.
Having one of the team’s top catchers on the 40-man roster available again is good news for both the Brewers and Nottingham himself. The only question that remains at this point is where he actually fits on the team at this point going forward.
Even though Jacob Nottingham is back in action, is it reasonable to think that he still has a future with the Brewers?
It was well-known enough going into the 2021 season that Nottingham was in a precarious position with his spot on the roster. As one of the players on the team with no minor league options remaining, it’s 26-man roster or bust for him this year.
There are two paths forward if Nottingham is looking to make the team as a member of the 26-man roster. The first and most obvious would be at catcher where the Brewers, like most teams, rarely carry more than two at a time.
Omar Narvaez and Manny Pina continue to sit at the top of Milwaukee’s catching depth chart. Unfortunately for Nottingham, both are hitting well this spring with the former slashing .313/.450/.625 with a homer and two doubles and the latter slashing an even better .545/.500/1.273 with a pair of homers and a pair of doubles.
Nottingham does have the ability to back up first base going for him. However, one of the Brewers’ offseason acquisitions made that possibility a little trickier.
When Milwaukee signed free agent Kolten Wong to play second base, that ended up shifting Keston Hiura over to first. With Hiura being a righty like Nottingham, the more logical backup at the position would be Daniel Vogelbach. Though Big Dan isn’t exactly on fire this spring (.211/.348/.316), he creates an actual lefty-righty platoon with Hiura.
That doesn’t leave much room left for Nottingham to make the bench. Our 26-man roster preview has the Brewers utilizing just four bench spots. After Pina, Vogelbach, one of the team’s four starting outfielders, and one of the Luis Urias/Orlando Arcia combo, all spots end up spoken for.
Even if Milwaukee goes with a fifth bench spot, does that go to Nottingham, or a more versatile player like Daniel Robertson? Basically, unless Nottingham is absolutely on fire over the next two and a half weeks, his chances of making the 26-man are slim at best.
There is still a chance that the Brewers attempt to move Nottingham, which is a scenario we looked at in the past. Either way, his days as a Brewer might be numbered.
The Brewers have 13 games remaining on their spring training schedule. There’s a good chance that the remainder of Nottingham’s future with Milwaukee falls within those games.