Of all the positions to fill on a baseball team, finding a long term franchise catcher might be the hardest. It requires an incredible amount of durability, leadership, and offensive and defensive production among many other traits. A catcher’s prime is usually shorter than any other position’s, but the best catchers are franchise cornerstones. Think of players like Yadier Molina, Joe Mauer and Jorge Posada. Longtime catchers who spent their entire careers with the same team. Icons like that come by very rarely, but it doesn’t stop teams from trying.
The Milwaukee Brewers have long been attracted to premier catching talent. They love to stockpile their farm system with intriguing catching talent. With four catchers in their top 30 prospects, they have the most of any team in MLB. Only the Reds, Yankees and Giants have as many as the Brew Crew do. But Milwaukee has a knack for developing catchers, look at the early years of Jonathan Lucroy’s career as a recent example, and they’re trying to strike gold again with their most recent crop.
At number six overall on Milwaukee’s top 30, Jeferson Quero leads the way for the Brewers’ catchers. Initially gaining recognition on Venezuela’s 2015 Little League World Series team, Quero continued to develop and became one of the headliners of Milwaukee’s 2019 international free agent class, signing for $200k.
Quero’s bat is an intriguing case. He has impressive line-drive ability, but it doesn’t translate to major home run power. That’s not to say he has no power at all. If it all clicks in the majors, Quero could be a realistic 25 double and 25 homer player. Defensively, Quero is well above-average. His top-notch athleticism gives him plus marks on his receiving and blocking, while his arm is one of the best in the system. He has a natural knack for the catch-and-throw, and should translate to one of the harder catchers to run on. At still just 18 years old, Quero has a long way to go, but his upside is undeniable.
The 13th overall prospect on the Brewers’ top 30, Mario Feliciano is the closest to the majors of any prospect on the list. The 75th overall pick in the 2016 draft, Feliciano made his major league debut on May 1, where he worked a walk in his only major league plate appearance so far.
Feliciano is a bat first catcher. His swing is quite smooth and follows through well. He generates hard contact and good power on the right side of the field, but has a little trouble working the ball to the opposite field. Feliciano does have trouble with strikeouts, he had a 28.8 percent strikeout rate in 2019, but is making good progress. Defensively, he has the potential to stick around long term. His arm receives solid grades but his blocking and framing are a little lacking. The Brewers believe Feliciano can stay behind the plate, but he has the bat to transitioning to first base if catching is not in his future.
Milwaukee has been trying to get more creative with its catching prospects. Enter Zavier Warren. Warren, a third round pick in the 2020 draft, mostly played the infield during his time at Central Michigan, but did catch in high school. Milwaukee announced him as a catcher, so they’re committed to giving him a chance behind the plate. Warren falls just one spot behind Feliciano, as the Brewers’ 14th best prospect.
Much like Feliciano, Warren is a bat first catcher. He’s a switch-hitter with a quick swing on both sides of the plate. He’s a premier line-drive hitter, evidenced by setting a Central Michigan record with 23 doubles in his sophomore year, but the home run totals aren’t as high as one might expect. Warren has a rare combination of patience at the plate and aggressiveness on the basepaths, which works well with his average speed. Defensively, Warren has a long way to go. It’s been some time since he caught regularly, but he has the arm and the athleticism to become a regular. He also adds defensive versatility with his infield time in college, where he split time all across the diamond.
Catchers with raw power are often desired heavily. Thomas Dillard fits that bill. Leading all high school players with 16 homers in his 2016 senior season, Dillard went to Mississippi and continued to hit well. After becoming Milwaukee’s fifth round pick in the 2019 draft, Dillard lines up as the Brew Crew’s 25th best prospect.
Dillard has the rare combination of massive power and patience at the plate. His switch-handed swing plays well from both sides of the plate, and almost translates into an uppercut type of swing, allowing him to generate his raw power. He has the potential to hit for high average as well, thanks to his patience and improving contact rate, but power is the name of his game. Defensively, Dillard is the least likely to stay behind the plate.
He still sees some reps at catcher but is receiving more and more time at first base, where his offensive profile fits best. Dillard has the skills to be an emergency catcher in a pinch and perform well, but his future seems to lie at first.
Despite stockpiling all of this talent behind the plate, Milwaukee is still searching for its franchise catcher. It’s been a whirlwind behind the plate since Lucroy was traded away, but the Brewers’ brass is optimistic about their current group of catchers. All for different reasons; Quero’s upside, Feliciano’s well rounded bat, Warren’s versatility and Dillard’s power. It’ll be a few seasons before we can truly sit back and see the results, but early returns look promising.