With just a few more months to go until pitchers and catchers report for the beginning of the 2017 season, now is the the perfect time for an organizational overview of prospects. With the overhaul beginning at the 2015 deadline, much has changed in the last couple of seasons in the minors. For the series, we’ll go around the horn and look into the prospects to see any and all value the Crew has amassed up until this point.
In the first installment of the series, we’ll take a look at one of the most difficult positions to fill: Catcher.
Catchers & Current Roster Places: 17 (18)
AZL: Mario Feliciano, Payton Henry, Carlos Leal
Helena: Johel Atencio, Charles Galiano, Cooper Hummel, Yoel Vasquez
Wisconsin: Max McDowell, Natanael Mejia, Nathan Rodriguez
Carolina: Dustin Houle, Fidel Pena, Mitch Ghelfi (C/1B)
Biloxi: Jacob Nottingham, Leudi Otano (C/UTIL)
Colorado Springs: Adam Weisenburger, Cody Decker (C/UTIL)
Others to Note: Parker Berberet (Triple-A, switched to pitching)
Five Top Names:
1) Jacob Nottingham (Double-A): With all the uncertain thoughts going around the community, the Brewers appear to stand behind him at the catcher position. He posted a rough offensive season, hitting only 11 home runs with a .234/.295/.347 line in 456 plate appearances. It should be noted that he’s still just 21 – 3 years younger than the average age – so he should improve as he matures. He’s known to have a solid arm behind the plate, but still has to grow in terms of footwork and pitch framing. Arguably the catcher with the highest ceiling catching in the organization, he’ll have to stay healthy and make improvements to see whether or not the offense and defense take a step forward for 2017.
2) Mario Feliciano (Rookie League, AZL): Probably the most fascinating catcher on the list, the 17 year-old performed at a decent clip in Arizona (Rookie League), displaying his power potential (8 extra-base hits) along with solid contact rates (.265/.307/.359 line) in just 127 plate appearances. Even in that league, he was on average 2.7 years younger than the average player – a hopeful sign for the high-risk, toolsy prospect. He has solid athleticism with an average arm, but needs to work much more behind the plate. The primary drawback to a player this young is the chances that he actually stays at the catching position – most teenage catchers drafted typically don’t pan out as catchers in the long run, if they reach the upper minors at all. He’s got a long road ahead of him, but we can certainly dream of relative success as we watch.
3) Mitch Ghelfi (Low-A/High-A): The fellow Wisconsinite produced well with his bat in his first major chunk of professional ball, as he hit with some power (5 HR, 25 2B’s) to pair with his solid slash line (.303/.356/.408 line in 436 PA’s). His Low-A hot streak in the first half could be the indicator for the low walk-rate after his call-up (0.8%) as well as for the season as a whole (5.5%), since many players get swing-happy when they see the ball well. He is noted to have solid defensive abilities, though he’s listed (and played extensively) as a first baseman coming into the season. Whether or not he’ll stick behind the plate will remain to be seen, but he could be a solid depth catcher for the Crew in the next couple seasons.
4) Max McDowell (Low-A): Drafted in 2015, McDowell comes with speed and athleticism – tools that usually do not come with a catcher. He isn’t just a single hitter, however – he added 23 extra-base hits while playing for Low-A Wisconsin this season. His mix of a solid arm (44% runners caught stealing), base-running speed (21/24 steals), and improved slash line in a full season (.270/.359/.345 in 400 PA) make him an intriguing prospect to watch if he continues the trend.
5) Payton Henry (Rookie Leaue Helena): Another 2016 draftee, Henry split time with Feliciano in Arizona’s rookie league. Similar to Feliciano, he held his own as a rookie (.256/.333/.341 in 93 PA), though he’s a year-and-a-half older than him. He flashes more of a power swing which includes a higher – though still acceptable – K-rate (20.4%). He has a solid arm as well, possessing a low-90’s throw down to second base. The main issue that comes out with Henry is the age, as he’s considered older than most in his grade group. Whether or not that means he’ll be pushed faster through the system remains to be seen, but he’s an interesting high-risk high school catcher whose bat and arm could be solid pieces to build around.
Cody Decker (Double-A/Triple-A): Signed to a minor league deal in early January (2017), the 29 year-old Decker will make the move to catcher full-time after playing predominately at first base. Now hopefully I get some of this scouting report correct – otherwise you might see him in the comments. Nonetheless, the 5’11, 217-pound utility man has experience nearly everywhere – catcher, corner infield, corner outfield, and even pitched a few innings. He’s bounced around a lot recently as well – being in San Diego for seven years before spending 2016 between Boston, Colorado, and Kansas City. He’s a definitely a power bat – 173 HR with 376 total extra base hits (literally one more than his amount of singles) in 8 minor league seasons. He’s only played in 8 major league games as well, but primarily in pinch-hitting scenarios. There’s not many statistical numbers to his catching game – the position he’ll be moving to for most of his time this season – but he does have professional experience there (23 games, 116 innings played). It’s not likely that he’ll see extended time in the majors, but his power should play very well for fans in the minors. As a plus, he has a large cult following on Twitter – similar to that of our very own RHP Tim Dillard. The pair could certainly make for an interesting and fun combination on and off the field if Decker reports to Triple-A.
Adam Weisenburger (Triple-A): At age 28, Weisenburger really doesn’t appear to be anything above organizational depth at this point. He’s probably the fourth catcher right now behind Manny Pena, Andrew Susac, and newly-acquired Jett Bandy. What further puts him in a bind for 2017 were his injuries – the primary reason for his limited 11 games played in 2016. He came off 2015 by throwing out the most runners in his career (39% caught stealing), as well as a continuation of his solid walk-rates (career .355 OBP in 1272 PA’s). It’s hard to envision him playing any extensive role on the major league squad, though he’s the best emergency option the Brewers have behind the plate.
Nathan Rodriguez (Low-A): Drafted in the 21st round of the 2016 MLB Draft, Rodriguez has the overall look of a potential backup catcher with a little bit of offensive promise. Many have said he has a solid repertoire of defensive abilities – albeit not impressive – to pair with his rising offensive stock. He proved some of his offensive questions in his first taste of rookie ball, hitting .272/.360/.395 in 173 PA’s in Helena before getting the call to Low-A Wisconsin. The big question with him will be whether or not he can hit for power, as 12 of his 40 hits were for extra bases. We need to see more numbers from him to really get a feel for what he could be, so take the projection with a massive grain of salt.
Cooper Hummel (Rookie League Helena): Selected in the 18th round last season, Hummel landed in Helena for the remainder of the season. He showed some promise with his walk-rate (20.3%) – something that he carried over from his college season – and knocked in 17 runs in the 133 plate appearances. He threw out 16 of the 66 base-stealers (24%), and even notched a game at third base. It has been said that the switch-hitter has solid contact skills as a left-handed batter, and he’s been known to be a real gritty player. He posted gradual growth from his freshman year onward; if he can continue the trend, his gap power and defensive improvement could catapult him to a higher standing down the road despite his small stature (5’10”, 185 lbs).
Johel Atencio (Rookie League Helena): The 20 year-old 2013 international signee hasn’t reached Single-A yet, though he’s just turned 20 in September. He had a solid first season in the farm system, hitting .290/.332/.355 line in 232 PA in 2014. However, he came back in 2016 and played sparingly, locking in only 85 plate appearances and 193/1 innings played in the field. He continued to have solid contact rates (75.3%), though he didn’t reach base in the small sample size – only good for a .169/.268/.465 line. It’s really hard to tell what he could become in a couple of years, but he’s definitely a lower-end prospect at this point.
Leudi Otano (Double-A): The 23-year old utilityman found a home behind the plate after coming stateside for the first time in his career. In just 17 games, he posted a .189/.304/.242 line in 113 PA, but lacking to display his gap power potential – down to just 4 extra-base hits to his 18 in the Dominican Summer League in 2015. Though he only got half the at-bats, Otano will benefit from a second full-season in the states. He’s another lower-tier prospect with some offensive capabilities, but he’s got a hard road ahead now that he’s currently on the Biloxi roster (though it could be changed at any time).
Dustin Houle (High-A): A former 2011 draft selection, Houle gradually bumped himself into the upper-half fo the farm system in 2016, reaching Double A after playing 94 games in High-A Brevard County. The results were mixed; he hit .201/.291/.248 in 366 plate appearances which lacked any serious power numbers (12 extra base hits) to pair with a 36% caught stealing rate (41 caught/115 steals). He has an average arm with a catcher’s build, though his projections indicate he may only peak as an upper-minor depth piece without any serious tool in his arsenal.
Fidel Pena (Low-A): The 25 year-old signed on with the Crew last season after playing in Arizona’s system for five years. He played an acceptable game in High-A, hitting .247/.291/.322 in 327 plate appearances. It’s probably not the best place him with the other catchers, as he has experience nearly everywhere else on the diamond (played most of his time at second base; also played 1B, 2B, 3B last season). He threw only 20% of runners out last season (6/30), and appears to be fairly small for the position at only 5’11”, 165 lbs. At this point, his value comes in the “jack-of-all-trades” mold than anything else. He’s one to keep tabs on, but not to get too hyped about.
Carlos Leal (Rookie League AZL): Interesting story, really: the Brewers drafted the full-time catcher in the 32nd round of the 2014 draft as a pitcher, seeing as he could throw a 95 mph fastball. The experiment ended up going awry as a minor league catching instructor found that Leal was struggling to stay committed to the new position. Transitioning back was a good move, as he hit well in Low-A Wisconsin in 2015 (.309/.367/.764 line with just a 19.7% K-rate in 310 PA). He was injured all of last season – a shoulder injury to his throwing arm – so he might not be getting regular time until the organization knows he’s completely healthy.
Charles Galiano (Rookie League Helena): The final selection for the Crew in the 2015 draft, Galiano has only seen 193 innings on the diamond, as well as just 119 plate appearances thus far. It is difficult to really peg the 22 year-old right-handed hitter as anything but organizational depth at this point.
Yoel Vasquez (Rookie League Helena): Little is known about the 19 year-old prospect who signed on late in the 2014 season. The 6’1″, 180 lbs Venezuelan-import made his stateside debut this season, though only playing in 13 games split between Rookie Leagues Helena and Arizona.
Natanael Mejia (Low-A): In the farm system since 2011, the 6’0″, 175 lbs. catcher played his second season in High-A Wisconsin as a depth option. He’s never reached over 107 plate appearances in his career, and the 24-year old doesn’t have a ton of experience to go off of. He has displayed a decent arm behind the plate – throwing out 40% of base-runners – but it has dipped since coming stateside (14/48, good for 29%).