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  • The Brewers Failed to Develop Mario Feliciano & It's a Recurring Problem


    Matt Rectenwald

    Mario Feliciano's surprising DFA and subsequent claim by the Detroit Tigers is no anomaly. It's not Feliciano's fault, though. There simply isn't any such thing as a catching prospect!

    Image courtesy of © Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

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    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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    There is so much turnover in the scouting/development department (the Brewers were literally among the worst in all of MLB before they started overhauling things once Mark A bought the team and that process continued further once Stearns & company got here) that I'm not sure how big of a developmental indictment some of these guys actually are.

    Another thing to consider is that developing catchers is literally the hardest thing to do, so every team's top prospect lists are likely similar rife with "failures".

    The most informative thing I think with regards to future expectations would be that despite whatever developmental shortcoming they may have had, since Stearns and company have gotten here Brewers catchers rank 3rd in WAR among all MLB clubs.  

    Outside of the one year of Yaz, most of that WAR came from players that came up through the system (Lucroy/Maldonado) or were targeted by Stearns & company in trade (Pina/Narvaez).

    Between Contreras on the MLB side and Quero in the pipeline, I think the catching situation is probably the best its been organizationally since Lucroy/Maldonado were coming up.

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    Yes, we struggle at developing catchers, but we also don't invest capitol for drafting Catchers either.  Of that long list of 16 catchers, it includes these high round draft picks:

    1st Round (1) - Coulter*

    2nd Round (3) - Garfield, Johnson, and Feliciano

    3rd Round (2) - Lucroy and Sweet Lou

    *even though drafted as a catcher, it was widely assumed Coulter couldn't stick there.  The fact that he did for a while is either a credit to Brewer development or a failure for not getting him to focus long term on his bat at an easier defensive position. 

    So, there really hasn't been much of a focus on bringing in the talent to succeed either.  Can't blame the coaches if a 20th rounder fails - that is the norm. But I guess if we rank pretty high at MLB catcher WAR yet fail to develop our own... we are doing something right. 

    Also, you should fix that spelling error in the article. It should be "Woah SOLVDD" ;)

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    I haven't looked at other teams but I think the same can be said about them and developing catchers. 

    Catching is very difficult to produce and it is probably the most difficult because of how difficult the position is.  A good catcher who can both hit and play defense is like finding a HOF QB in the NFL. 

    The Brewers since 2012 have the 6th highest wRC+, 5th highest in oWAR, 1st in dWAR and 2nd in WAR.  I would say that is pretty good.  Notice a team that has a HOF bound catcher is only in one of these lists. 

    While the development of the players haven't been all that great the results the Brewers have been getting at catcher have been phenomenal since 2012. 

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    27 minutes ago, CheezWizHed said:

     

    Also, you should fix that spelling error in the article. It should be "Woah SOLVDD" ;)

    Yeah, I was wondering who this Palmisano guy was, then I realized he meant Lou Palsmo.

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    • WHOA SOLVDD 3
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    Of the post-Lucroy failed catching prospects, Feliciano is the only one who doesn’t fall into one of two categories: guys whose bats failed to progress or guys no one expected to stick at catcher. The former happens at every position. The latter is a bit of hubris from an organization proud of its ability to mold catchers defensively.

    Feliciano was really the first one who wasn’t looked at as an extreme long shot to stick at catcher who didn’t develop defensively.

    The case against having Quero higher I guess might be that because catchers have so much to focus on, their bats might develop less often. On the other hand, if the reports on Quero’s defense and intangibles are accurate, even a little improvement offensively probably puts him in the Maldonado level. Regardless, however, what happened with Feliciano has no bearing on my opinion on Quero, both because he is an outlier and because Feliciano’s problem isn’t an issue for Quero.

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    Just now, CheeseheadInQC said:

    Of the post-Lucroy failed catching prospects, Feliciano is the only one who doesn’t fall into one of two categories: guys whose bats failed to progress or guys no one expected to stick at catcher. The former happens at every position. The latter is a bit of hubris from an organization proud of its ability to mold catchers defensively.

    Feliciano was really the first one who wasn’t looked at as an extreme long shot to stick at catcher who didn’t develop defensively.

    Feliciano's defense has just not developed at all.  In the off season he has trained with the anointed one Yadier Molina.  Even with him training with Yadier Molina his defense hasn't improved.  I think he just ran out of time with the Brewers as it doesn't look like what they have been trying to do nor what he has been doing in the off season has helped him become better defensively.  He may just need a reset and going to the Tigers may be that reset he needs.  His bat is good enough at catcher really you only need to be a 85-90 wRC+ catcher to provide value with good to average defense. 

    I really liked Feliciano but it seems like the Brewers wanted to move on and let him play somewhere else.

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    Looking through that list, it seems to me the Brewers have probably done as well as any other team in the league. The prospects in that list with the highest draft capital were Lucroy, Coulter (whom most teams NEVER considered to be a catcher), and Feliciano. It's like saying the Brewers have "failed" to develop first basemen, because Fielder was the only one to pan out.

    I tend to agree that, "there's no such thing as a catching prospect."

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    We really haven't put a ton of resources/draft position into catcher. It seems like we draft a ton of catchers in the 4th-10th range. The success rates in those rounds aren't great add in a more difficult position and I expect less. I think we did fail miserably with Jacob Nottingham, he seemed to have a lot of upward momentum and was trash when we got him. We seemed to be doing well with Mario but the lost 2020 season wrecked his momentum.

     

     

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    When you have a catching prospect who is well regarded enough that he needs to be protected from the rule 5 draft, then you have a tricky timeline.  It's not uncommon for a catcher to take until his late 20s to develop. This is a problem for every team, but it means there are a lot of semi developed guys available to mold with big league level coaching.

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    13 hours ago, sveumrules said:

    Another thing to consider is that developing catchers is literally the hardest thing to do, so every team's top prospect lists are likely similar rife with "failures".

    Yeah, it's impossible to know if we're doing badly without knowing how other teams are doing. Based on the stats posted elsewhere, few teams have been able to identify and develop catching prospects.

    And a few of the guys mentioned weren't expected to stay at C even when they were drafted. Then one promising prospect had severe mental health issues. And others were only rated highly because our farm teams were wretched at the time.

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    I was once intrigued by Salome and Palmisano so I share your pain.  But I think Quero has a good shot at being the next guy.  By everything I’ve ever heard about him, he’s got a great makeup.  There is a hit tool and defense plus he’s young.  Every reason to be very optimistic about him as he becomes a consensus top 5 prospect for the Brewers.  

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    On 12/23/2022 at 2:56 PM, sveumrules said:

    There is so much turnover in the scouting/development department (the Brewers were literally among the worst in all of MLB before they started overhauling things once Mark A bought the team and that process continued further once Stearns & company got here) that I'm not sure how big of a developmental indictment some of these guys actually are.

    Another thing to consider is that developing catchers is literally the hardest thing to do, so every team's top prospect lists are likely similar rife with "failures".

    The most informative thing I think with regards to future expectations would be that despite whatever developmental shortcoming they may have had, since Stearns and company have gotten here Brewers catchers rank 3rd in WAR among all MLB clubs.  

    Outside of the one year of Yaz, most of that WAR came from players that came up through the system (Lucroy/Maldonado) or were targeted by Stearns & company in trade (Pina/Narvaez).

    Between Contreras on the MLB side and Quero in the pipeline, I think the catching situation is probably the best its been organizationally since Lucroy/Maldonado were coming up.

    True. That said, allow me to mention a couple other names from my piece on the underrated prospects:

    https://brewerfanatic.com/news-rumors/brewers-minor-league/overlooked-brewers-prospects-catcher-first-base-designated-hitter-r627/?do=getNewComment&d=1&id=627

    Darrien Miller, who seems to be doing pretty good down under. Lots of doubles, hitting .280, and the OBP skills are there. Might be a good complement to Contreras/Quero starting in 2024-2025.

    Edgardo Ordonez also looks to be a solid option as well. 

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    On 12/24/2022 at 6:01 AM, Austin Tatious said:

    I was once intrigued by Salome and Palmisano so I share your pain.  But I think Quero has a good shot at being the next guy.  By everything I’ve ever heard about him, he’s got a great makeup.  There is a hit tool and defense plus he’s young.  Every reason to be very optimistic about him as he becomes a consensus top 5 prospect for the Brewers.  

    Agree with all of this. When I heard Salome was having "issues" & wanted to move to the OF it really bummed me out. Guy had a cannon. And I absolutely loved Palmisano.

    Way too early to be totally sold on Quero, but guilty as charged.

     

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    On 12/23/2022 at 9:14 PM, DoubleSwitch said:

    When you have a catching prospect who is well regarded enough that he needs to be protected from the rule 5 draft, then you have a tricky timeline.  It's not uncommon for a catcher to take until his late 20s to develop. This is a problem for every team, but it means there are a lot of semi developed guys available to mold with big league level coaching.

    It's pretty clear the pandemic warped Feliciano's development, and to be frank, I'm of the opinion that maybe the Rule 5 draft should be discarded or only apply to players over a certain age.

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    7 hours ago, clancyphile said:

    to be frank, I'm of the opinion that maybe the Rule 5 draft should be discarded or only apply to players over a certain age.

    It certainly devalues guys you might sign at age 16, because they might need to be put on the 40-man roster long before they are ready. And it puts a premium on college players, who will have established themselves (or not) by the time they need to be put on the 40-man.

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    12 minutes ago, Robocaller said:

    It certainly devalues guys you might sign at age 16, because they might need to be put on the 40-man roster long before they are ready. And it puts a premium on college players, who will have established themselves (or not) by the time they need to be put on the 40-man.

    It should be six years if they were under 18, four if 18-20, and three for 21 and over.

    And extend minor-league free agency to eight years.

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    1 minute ago, Robocaller said:

    It certainly devalues guys you might sign at age 16, because they might need to be put on the 40-man roster long before they are ready. And it puts a premium on college players, who will have established themselves (or not) by the time they need to be put on the 40-man.

    After next year it gets a bit better at least (Quero is eligible next year, but Chourio isn’t until two after that).

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    9 minutes ago, CheeseheadInQC said:

    After next year it gets a bit better at least (Quero is eligible next year, but Chourio isn’t until two after that).

    If Chourio isn't on the 40-man in 2 years, it means his development has stalled.

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    7 minutes ago, Robocaller said:

    If Chourio isn't on the 40-man in 2 years, it means his development has stalled.

    True, I just used him as the biggest name in that class. Substitute Mendez, Guilarte, Areinamo, Barrios, Castillo or Aquino if you wish.

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    Back to Quero, it is tough to find a good comp for him. From 2009 through the present, 12 catchers saw a decent chunk of time in High-A during their age 19 season. Two were not really considered among their organization's top prospects (Santiago Chavez and Francisco Pena), three are currently among their organization's top prospects (Francisco Alvarez, Ivan Herrera and Quero), four either switched positions or were derailed by defense (Feliciano, Jesus Montero, Wil Myers and Tommy Joseph), and two were bat-first prospects who developed enough to stick behind the plate (Gary Sanchez, Keibert Ruiz). Christian Betancourt might be the best comp among the group defensively, but he had maturity questions that you never really hear about Quero.

    Catchers with plus defense and intangibles have a way of sticking around. It is why Martin Maldonado is still going strong, having played 100 games in each non-pandemic season since leaving the Brewers, despite struggling at times to stay above the Mendoza line and posting a career OPS that I believe is on the wrong side of .650. It is why former Brewers prospect Max McDowell was invited to the Yankees alternate site during 2020 and recently signed as a minor league free agent despite a fairly poor offensive season at AA last year.

    If he develops at all offensively, and the scouting reports on his defense and intangibles are accurate, it is tough to see him not having a decent length big league career.

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