Catching Carousel: Brewers Make Last-Minute Deals with Marlins, PadresBaseball 

Catching Carousel: Brewers Make Last-Minute Deals with Marlins, Padres


© Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Just before Opening Day, the Brewers played musical chairs with their catching corps in a pair of moves perhaps triggered by losing Pedro Severino to a PED suspension. They made two trades, adding two backstops and subtracting another, and shipping a couple of lower-ranked prospects out as part of the deals. They are:

From Miami: C Alex Jackson
To Miami: 2B Hayden Cantrelle and RHP Alexis Ramirez

From San Diego: C Victor Caratini
To San Diego: C Brett Sullivan and UTIL Korry Howell

The Brewers’ 40-man situation at catcher was already quite amorphous behind entrenched starter Omar Narváez. Young Puerto Rican prospect Mario Feliciano has been constantly injured and is not ready to handle a big league staff, but he’s also such a naturally gifted hitter that the Brewers felt compelled to add him to their 40-man roster anyway and have kept him on there throughout this extreme, short-notice turnover even though he has little chance of playing an integral role this year. Sullivan had long been an interesting bat-to-ball sleeper who was squeezed out of Tampa Bay by the Rays’ catching depth, and he was impressive in yet another Dominican Winter League stint leading up to his offseason signing with Milwaukee.

The Severino suspension would have forced Sullivan into the backup role and made it more likely that Feliciano would have to step in at some point during the season due to injury, which is inevitable at catcher. That’s tenuous, and so adding experienced backup Caratini (who can also act as a switch-hitter off the bench) and former top prospect Jackson (who has an option year left) fortifies depth in the present and also adds a second long-term upside play to Milwaukee’s catching coffers.

Caratini is a career .242/.320/.355 hitter overall and a .250/.350/.342 hitter against left-handed pitching, the latter of which makes him a nice complement to the lefty-hitting Narváez. Caratini also has experience at several other corner positions, where he moonlights for a few innings here and there, though with Mike Brosseau and Jace Peterson around, that type of versatility is less likely to be utilized in Milwaukee than it was in San Diego and Chicago, his previous two stops.

Jackson, 26, was the sixth overall pick in 2014, flamed out in Seattle and then Atlanta, and was traded to Miami late last season. He hasn’t performed at all in a relatively small big league sample — he’s hitting .132 across a scattered 61 career games — but he does have huge, rare power for a catcher. He also shares physical characteristics with the types of power-hitting backstops who have tended to break out later in their 20s — big, strong guys like Evan Gattis and Tyler Flowers. Jackson hit 28 homers with Triple-A Gwinnett in 2019 but had red flag peripherals in his 34.2% strikeout rate and 5.8% walk rate, a distilled overview of his offensive skillset. He is not a good defensive catcher, but both he and Feliciano have an everyday regular ceiling if they can find a way to polish even some aspects of their game over the next couple of years.

The Padres also found themselves flush with catching depth after adding Texas-era A.J. Preller signee Jorge Alfaro and his epic hose in a trade with Miami. Like Jackson, Alfaro has plus-plus raw power and arm strength, but a poor approach and sloppy defense undermine his overall performance and the pitching staff’s comfort with him. Spring backfield whispers indicated the Padres were willing to listen on their catchers in trade proposals, with most of the scout-y intrigue surrounding young Luis Campusano. Instead, they ship off Caratini and will carry Alfaro and steady Austin Nola on the big league roster, with Campusano getting regular at-bats in El Paso and Sullivan as his backup.

Sullivan, whose career strikeout rate is about 12%, can also play left field and, should either Nola or Alfaro get dinged, is probably first in line to be called up since his handedness complements both those guys. Bumping Sullivan up also means Campusano can continue to get regular playing time at Triple-A. The universal DH, meanwhile, opens up the possibility that Campusano kicks down the door on offense and becomes a better everyday option there than a Luke Voit/Matt Beaty platoon, in which case Sullivan will act as the org’s third catcher and Triple-A starter. While it’s arguably a downgrade from Caratini to Sullivan, the latter is arguably a better roster fit with what the Padres have on hand, and they picked up a speedy utility prospect in Howell, too. Here is his scouting report from our Brewers list; he’ll be added to the upcoming Padres prospect list.

Howell began the 2021 season on a tear and it looked as though something may have clicked for the toolsy former JUCO draftee, but his on-paper production took a dive after he spent 10 days on the shelf in June with an ankle injury. He slashed .210/.317/.399 split between High-A and Double-A after that, which was still a league-average batting line. It came with a 34% strikeout rate, though, and ultimately the Brewers decided to leave Howell off their 40-man roster and expose him to the theoretically upcoming Rule 5 Draft. Howell got consistent center field reps early in the season, and at times made spectacular plays out there, before re-integrating the three infield positions he played early as a pro into his duties later in the summer. Howell doesn’t have traditional infield arm utility, and he tends to hurriedly skip two- and three-hoppers over to first base when he’s asked to make tough throws. While he could become a special outfield defender with continued reps, his limitations on the infield prevent him from projecting as a super utility type in the truest sense. He still has plenty of on-roster utility (speed, the raw power to run into one on occasion, being a defensive upgrade in the outfield) as a bench player.

The Marlins and Brewers can’t stop trading catchers to one another. After Payton Henry was sent to south Florida last year, now Jackson heads to Milwaukee in exchange for two prospects, Cantrelle and Ramirez.

Ramirez didn’t pitch at all in 2021, had shoulder surgery in November and won’t pitch at all again in ’22. He was last seen during 2020 instructs sitting in the mid-90s with a good slider. He’s a long-term flier for an org that has made a proactive effort to add velocity to their system. Cantrelle is a 35+ FV utility prospect whose best tool is his speed. Here is his report from the Brewers list:

Cantrelle is an athletic, switch-hitting infielder with doubles power. He’s not an especially deft hitter, he just swings with big effort from both sides of the plate and sprays hard contact to all fields when he finds himself able to make contact. Similarly, as an infielder Cantrelle isn’t especially smooth but makes a lot of plays via sheer effort and athleticism. He played short at Lafayette and has played both middle infield spots as a pro, and he could eventually get reps in center field because of his speed. Even in a smaller conference it was clear Cantrelle was pretty allergic to breaking balls, and he’ll likely never hit enough to play a huge role. But the fact that he switch-hits and has the speed and projected versatility he does provides other ways for him to impact a game in a reserve role.

Considering the Marlins’ depth at catcher and that they seemed keen to move away from Alfaro, it’s possible the Ng regime was simply going to move off of Jackson (very similar to Alfaro, both positives and negatives) altogether. If that’s the case, they did well to get anything at all for him. Both players coming back to Miami are developmental fliers rather than prospects with imminent big league roles.

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