Matt Arnold spoke about the Brewers catching situation during the Winter Meetings. Not many people noticed at the time, but Arnold failed to mention Mario Feliciano's name when discussing the position. I made a mental note of the omission and filed it for safekeeping. On December 15, when the Brewers designated Feliciano for assignment to clear a 40-man spot for Owen Miller, I immediately recalled the omission by Arnold earlier this month. It seems to me that the Brewers haven't done a great job developing catchers, so I thought it might be fun to go ahead and explore that.
Baseball America has been making a Top 30 list of prospects by team since 2001. In recent years, MLB Pipeline and Baseball Prospectus have done the same. I combed through any catchers listed in a Brewers Top 30 Prospects list since 2001 for this quick study.
During this time, there have been sixteen different catching prospects to appear on Brewers Top Prospect lists. Five of the sixteen appeared just once.
Brian Moon 2001- #27 (Baseball America). Moon never made the majors and played just 55 career games at Triple-A.
Cameron Garfield 2011- #22 (Baseball America). Garfield never made the majors and reached only as high as High-A.
Froilan Villanueva 2002- #25 (Baseball America). Villanueva never made the majors and reached only as high as High-A.
Martin Maldonado 2012- #18 (Baseball America). Finally, a player with some value! Has produced 7.5 career WAR (3.2 for the Brewers). He was traded for Jett Bandy on 12/13/2016. Bandy was billed as a cheaper Maldonado type, but in two years with the Brewers, produced an abysmal -1.1 WAR.
Tyler Roberts 2011- #23 (Baseball America). Roberts never made the majors and reached only as high as High-A.
Now let's get into the multi-year prospects (sorted by initial year of ranking):
Jason Belcher 2001- #11 (BA), 2002- #18 (BA), 2003- #29 (BA), 2004- #30 (BA). Belcher dropped down the prospect lists for four consecutive years after being drafted in the fifth round of the 2000 draft. He ended up playing more outfield than catcher and was jettisoned to the Montreal system in 2004. He toiled through that season and 2005 in the Washington system before playing independent ball from 2006-2010.
Kade Johnson 2001- #7 (BA), 2002- #12 (BA). Similarities to Belcher here. Johnson, a second-round pick in 1999, was moved to the outfield in his second year of pro ball and played outfield primarily in 2002. He returned to catcher in 2003, but his star had already faded. He played 134 games at the Double-A level, but that was it, and he was out of the Milwaukee system, making just eight independent league appearances in subsequent years.
Lou Palmisano 2004- #10 (BA), 2005- #15 (BA), 2006- #20 (BA). Once upon a time, the community thought Palmisano's emergence meant the Brewers catching woes were solved. Three years of falling down prospect lists, 202 games at the Double-A level, but that was it for Lou. He did crush for Pensacola in 2010 (AA-Indy). However, he couldn't capitalize.
Angel Salome 2005- #26 (BA), 2006- #21 (BA), 2007- #11 (BA), 2008- #8 (BA), 2009- #5 (BA), 2010- # 15 (BA). This is the first case of ascension up prospect lists we've seen from a Brewers catching prospect. In 2010 things started to go awry as Salome first took time off in Spring Training with an undisclosed mental issue, then requested a position change to outfield upon returning. Then-GM Doug Melvin said of Salome: "He's not somebody we can count on right now," Melvin said. "Jonathan (Lucroy) is here now, and he can learn here. He's a part of our future. We'll play it this way and see how it goes." Ultimately Salome appeared in 3 games in 2008, with just three at-bats and a career WAR of 0.0.
Jonathan Lucroy 2008- #16 (BA), 2009- #10 (BA), 2010- #5 (BA). Lucroy was called up in 2010 when Gregg Zaun was injured, despite having minimal experience above Double-A. He developed into one of the better all-around catchers in the league for a stretch and produced 17.7 career WAR (17.3 for the Brewers). Easily the best catcher the Brewers have developed in the last twenty years.
Clint Coulter 2013- #9 (BA), 2014- #11 (BA), 2015-#3 (BA), 2016- #8 (BA), #13 (MLB Pipeline). Coulter was a first-round pick by Milwaukee in the 2012 draft, and immediately there were questions about whether he'd be able to stick behind the plate. By 2015 the Brewers had essentially given up on his catching future and had moved him to the outfield, where his bat was expected to play. It never did. Did you know- Coulter is still active? He played for St. Louis' Triple-A club in Memphis last year and absolutely raked with a .910 OPS in 54 games. He's still only 28 years old, amazingly.
Jacob Nottingham 2016- #10 (MLB Pipeline), 2017- #14 (BA, MLB Pipeline), 2018- #23 (BA), #27 (MLB Pipeline), 2019- #10 (BA), #16 (MLB Pipeline). Once upon a time, he was the prize for Khris "Krush" Davis (with apologies to Bubba Derby). Nottingham, like Coulter, was considered a bat-first catcher mainly because of his tall stature and big frame. It seemed designed for first base. It turns out he couldn't hit, either (though, to be fair, he improved leaps and bounds as a catcher). Fifty-three career MLB games over four years. He produced 0.5 WAR (0.7 for the Brewers).
Mario Feliciano 2017- #24 (MLB Pipeline), #28 (BA), 2018- #15 (MLB Pipeline), #20 (BA), 2019- #9 (BP), #14 (MLB Pipeline), #23 (BA), 2020- #2 (FG), #3 (MLB Pipeline), #5 (BP), #6 (BA), 2021- #5 (MLB Pipeline), #7 (BA), 2022- #18 (BA), #22 (MLB Pipeline). The wild variations here are telling. He was as high as #2 (FanGraphs, 2020) and as low as #28 (Baseball America, 2017). Has produced 0.0 WAR in his three major league games over two seasons (4 at-bats, one hit). I find it puzzling that the Brewers essentially skipped him over Double-A (only three games there). His career minor league numbers aren't horrible (.257/.315/.388/.702), but not a single skill stands out. Good luck, Detroit.
Payton Henry 2018- #28 (BA), 2019- #10 (MLB Pipeline), #12 (BA), 2020- #16 (MLB Pipeline, BA), #18 (FG), 2021- #18 (MLB Pipeline). Henry was traded for John Curtiss at the 2021 Trade Deadline. Unfortunately, Curtiss was immediately injured and made no impact on the Brewers. Henry didn't make any impact on the Marlins either. He posted a -0.1 WAR and was traded back to Milwaukee on November 10, 2022.
Nick Kahle 2020- #17 (BA), #19 (MLB Pipeline), #23 (FG); 2021- #17 (BA), #19 (MLB Pipeline). Kahle dropped entirely off all the prospect lists in 2022, as he only played 26 games (22 at Biloxi- AA).
Jeferson Quero 2020- #17 (MLB Pipeline), #19 (BA); 2021- #9 (MLB Pipeline), #10 (BA); 2022- #7 (BA). It's very early in the young Quero's career. He's only played in 20 games at High-A Wisconsin. Overall in his two minor league seasons, he has an impressive slash line of .290/.357/.448/.806. If this article has yet to give you pause on anointing Quero as the next great catcher, I am still determining what will.
In summary, these guys have produced a total of 25.6 MLB WAR. If you take Lucroy and Maldonado away, the other fourteen players have produced a total of 0.4 WAR. In the 1990s, Gary Huckabay of Baseball Prospectus coined the term TINSTAAPP (There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect); I'd like to introduce the term TINSTAACP (There Is No Such Thing As A Catching Prospect).
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