Catching woes continue in Brewers’ system

Cameron Garfield – Top catcher

November 4, 2012

By Jason Arndt
Brewers Farm Report

Day One of a five-part series chronicling the catchers and all four infield positions in the Brewers system from Milwaukee all the way down to Rookie League Arizona.

As the Brewers look to assess its future in the five positions above, there are only two clear-cut favorites to reach Milwaukee in the next 3-5 years. It is with relief the team has players locked up at the Major League level where holes remain in the farm system. The two players will be examined in the coming days (1B, 2B).

Catching should not be an urgent matter to address for Milwaukee with Jonathon Lucroy (26) solidifying his role as the primary starter at least until the 2016 season. In conjunction with Lucroy, the Brewers have been pleasantly surprised and is confident in having Martin Maldonado (26) serving as Lucroy’s backup.

Maldonado spent seven seasons with two different organizations putting up inconsistent numbers in the minors, but proved himself when he was called upon after Lucroy injured his hand in a Los Angeles hotel mishap midway through the 2012 season.

The performance by Maldonado gave Brewers GM Doug Melvin the tough decision to find a new employer for Brewers’ opening day backup George Kottaras.

There is a glaring hole in the upper ranks of the Brewers’ farm system in the catching position.

After Maldonado put up respectable numbers, it created a significant gap in Triple A Nashville for the remainder of the 2012 season.

Brewer officials responded by signing career minor-league catcher HumbertoQuintero (33) to supplement 31-year-old Dayton Buller behind the plate.

Buller caught 37 games for the Nashville Sounds and will remain as the team’s primary catcher in 2012 after the Brewers opted to resign him to a minor-league contract. It is not surprising due to little options at Double A Huntsville.

Anderson De LaRosa has been a member of the Brewers organization since 2004 and shared time with 23-year-oldAdam Weisenburger behind the plate with Huntsville. Weisenburger has seen limited action in his two seasons.

Brewer officials do not rank De La Rosa, 28, high on their boards with a career .231 average and on base percentage of .277. His most successful minor league stint was five years ago with High A Brevard County where he batted above .300 in just ten games for the Manatees.

Subsequently, it lead the Manatees to try something different in the 2012 by having a catcher-by-committee system.

Brewer officials anticipated a catcher shortage in the system entering the 2011 season and converted then 23-year-old Joey Paciorek to catcher.

Paciorek, son of Jim, played 123 career games as a third baseman in his first four seasons with the Brewers’ organization before putting on the catching gear entering the 2011 season.

The Brewers might not be putting Paciorek in its plans for the 2013 season or beyond. His 2012 season marks his sixth season with the organization and he might elect to become a six-year minor league free agent and move forward with a different franchise.

Paciorek’s decision leaves the catching duties to 23-year-old Parker Berberet, a 23rd round selection by the Brewers in 2011 and Shawn Zarraga. Both have limited experience in the minor league system.

Due to the inevitable gap with High A Brevard County, it may result in a tough decision by Brewers Player Development officials to promote the Brewers’ top catching prospect Cameron Garfield to High A in 2013 from Single A Wisconsin.

Garfield was Baseball America’s 11th best Brewer prospect entering the 2012 season but his development has been hindered by injuries and being rushed through the system too quickly.

Milwaukee drafted the 21-year-old Garfield in the second round of the 2009 draft with the mindset of having him as the catcher of the future for the Brewers’ franchise.

The selection was made prior to the emergence of Lucroy as the primary catcher for Milwaukee – at the time Lucroy was with Double A Huntsville and completed a .267 season with a .380 on base percentage. Lucroy caught 125 games for the Stars in 2009.

Scouts rated Garfield as an above average defender with excellent game-calling skills and a quick-release pickoff move. In addition, they also noted his ability to hit for pop and be a solid doubles hitter.

Despite his proven skills, Garfield’s stock plummeted his high school senior season due to an injured ankle, which he admitted himself was the source of his struggles. Garfield was quickly promoted to Single A Wisconsin his second season and caught a career high 101 games in 2010.

Since then, Garfield has worn down but the offensive side of his game has steadily improved. The rush to promote played a role in Garfield being lost for the majority of the 2011 season due to continued injuries.

The Single A Timber Rattlers kept a close eye on Garfield during the 2012 season after two stints on the Disabled List. Wisconsin utilized him as the Designated Hitter in order to keep his bat in the lineup and to allow him time to fully recover. The decision led the Rattlers to rely on Rafael Neda for the bulk of catching duties in 2012.

Garfield’s offensive numbers improved drastically with 11 home runs and 18 doubles in 66 games for the Midwest League Champion Rattlers.

Many scouts questioned his plate discipline due to his tendency to over-swing or pull the ball – but limited his shortcoming for the 2012 season.

Player Development’s justification for promoting Garfield is due to the potential and promise of two recent catcher draftees in the Rookie Level, 2012 first-round pick Clint Coulter and late-round selection Paul Eshleman.

Coulter, 19, batted .302 with five home runs, three doubles and three triples in 49 games with the Arizona League Brewers.

The Brewers are attempting to get Coulter to develop his offensive game before tacking on more games behind the plate, splitting his time almost evenly between catcher and designated hitter.

Eshleman began to heat up in the later portion of the season for Pioneer League Helena, moving from the eight hole to cleanup position and responded well with four home runs in the final three weeks of the season. But there is much to be improved in Eshleman’s game.

The 23-year-old’s growth stunted while in college due to being a founding member of the reinstated NCAA program at University of Oregon. After three seasons, Eshleman made the decision to transfer to Cal State-San Bernardino.

Prospect Watch – Catchers

Cameron Garfield
Potential 2013 Destination: Early season promotion to High A Brevard County
Major League Potential: At best, could serve as a backup catcher by 2014/2015.
Clint Coulter
Potential 2013 Destination: Pending possible promotion of Garfield to Brevard County, could start season in Rookie League Helena.
Major League Potential: Incomplete

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