FUTURE CREW: CATCHERS

OVERVIEW

Continuing on with our look at the Brewers position-by-position depth throughout their organization, today we move behind the plate to check in on Milwaukee’s catching corps.

With the trades of Jonathan Lucroy to the Rangers and Martin Maldonado to the Angels, the Brewers enter 2017 without a clear-cut starter at the catching position as Andrew Susac, Jett Bandy and Manny Pina duke it out in spring training to see who will get the starting nod for Milwaukee on opening day.

The Brewers don’t have an obvious heir to the throne in the minor leagues either, but do have a handful of catching prospects worth following who could eventually emerge to take over the job.

TOP PROSPECTS

The Brewers best catching prospects include Jacob Nottingham, who was acquired a year ago from Oakland in the Khris Davis trade, as well as three youngsters who entered the organizations in last year’s draft, in Mario Feliciano, Payton Henry and Gabriel Garcia.

Nottingham, 21, is a bat-first player who put together a huge 2015 campaign, hitting .316 with 17 home runs between three different teams, and entered last season among the top catching prospects in baseball. He lacked consistency in his first taste of Double-A ball in 2016, hitting just .234 but was still named to the Southern League’s All-Star team.

Feliciano,18, was rated as one of the top catchers available in last year’s draft and was selected by Milwaukee last June with their competitive balance pick at the end of the second round. He got his first taste of pro ball with the AZL Brewers and hit .265 in 25 games.

Henry, 19, was the Brewers sixth round pick and Milwaukee was able to lure him away from an offer to BYU to start his pro career. His bat is ahead of his defense at this point and like Feliciano, he started 2016 in Maryvale, hitting .256 in 24 games.

Garcia, 19, was drafted in the 14th round last June, but with the likes of Feliciano and Henry on the roster, the young Puerto Rican saw most of his action at first base. He hit an even .300 with a pair of home runs and indications are that he will see more time behind the plate in 2017.

SLEEPER PICK

Way down in the Dominican Summer League, the Brewers have a catching prospect worth following in 18-year-old Jose Sibrian, whom they signed out of Venezuela in 2015 for a deal reported to be worth $550,000.

After getting some work in instructional league in 2015, Sibrian joined the Brewers Dominican Summmer League team in 2016 and shows good skills behind the plate, throwing out 39% of opposing base stealers and though he hit just .216 in 32 games, he was impressive enough that he earned a spot representing the Brewers on the DSL’s All-Star team.

OTHERS TO WATCH

Further down the rankings, there are several other backstops who could find a home at Miller Park with big jumps in 2017, including Max McDowell, Mitch Ghelfi, Rene Garcia and Dustin Houle.

McDowell and Ghelfi shared time at Class-A Wisconsin last season with both players being selected to the Midwest League All-Star team. McDowell hit .270 in 98 games with the Timber Rattlers, while the switch-hitting Ghelfi batted .326 with five home runs in 73 games before receiving a promotion to Brevard County to finish out the season.

Garcia, 26, spent time in the Houston Astros and Philadelphia Phillies farm systems before joining the Brewers in 2016. Splitting time between Double-A Biloxi and Triple-A Colorado Springs, he hit a combined .247 and joined Milwaukee in big league camp this spring as a non-roster invitee.

Houle, 23, was an eighth round pick back in 2011 and after missing all of 2014 and the majority of the 2015 season with injury, returned to a regular role behind the dish in 2016 at High-A Brevard County. With a cannon for an arm, he has cut down opposing runners at a 34% clip through his minor league career and also was among the Brewers non-roster invites this spring.