The Milwaukee Brewers continue to rebuild their future by getting deeper on the farm. Most recently, they traded away 28-year old slugger Khris Davis to the Oakland Athletics for Jacob Nottingham and Bubba Derby. While it is obviously a solid move for the As — as you would assume the consistent slugger should supplant the oft-injured Coco Crisp in left field — it is an even stronger move for the Brewers.
The Brewers won a mere 68 games last season and have made some nice moves this offseason, but they clearly haven’t been made to improve on last season’s 68-win performance. Instead they are signing some crafty veterans to minor league deals and trading away pieces of value to rebuild a once barren farm system.
It’s working, and the addition of Nottingham is a nice pickup for them. Aside from Ryan Braun, the most attractive — and seemingly most sought after — piece on the roster is Jonathan Lucroy. Nottingham’s breakout 2015 gives them a little wiggle room now to perhaps explore a trade, where just a few days ago, they had nothing on the pipeline for the future at backstop.
So who is Nottingham?
Well, for one thing he has become one of the more well traveled prospects in the game over the past calendar year. The 20-year old catching prospect — who will be 21 by MiLB Opening Day — was drafted by the Houston Astros in the sixth round of the 2013 draft. He spent his first two years in Rookie Ball, first in the GCL and then in the Appalachian League. His power improved from 2013 to 2014, but unfortunately nothing else did. His strikeout rate rose (22% to 27%) while his walk rate dropped (12.1% to 9.0%) and his wRC+ fell below 100 (98).
Despite the set back in his second season, the Astros promoted Nottingham to Quad Cities in full season A ball in 2015. He quickly rewarded them, slashing .326/.387/.543 with 10 home runs and 18 doubles before earning a promotion to High-A ball. The 6 foot 3, 230 pound righty continued to rake until he was traded for the first time.
He stands pretty straight in the box with some bend in his knees but not much. His bat is moving over his back shoulder until the ball comes across the plate at which point he takes his big swing.
A big plus in Nottingham’s plate presence is his ability to hit with power to all fields.
Nottingham was one of the key returns in the Scott Kazmir deal. The day he was traded, Lancaster was playing the Stockton Ports and Nottingham literally had to walk over to his new team. Some will argue that he reverted a bit back to his lackluster early years after the trade, but he finished the season strong slashing a .316/.372/.505 combined line with 17 home runs and 82 RBI. He set a career low strikeout rate, striking out 99 times in 511 plate appearances (19.3%), but only walked 33 times over the same span (a frighteningly low 6.4%). Still, Nottingham was widely considered one of the bigger 2015 breakouts and headed into 2016 a top ten Oakland prospect.
Until Friday. Now, he is one of the Brewers top prospects and easily their best catching prospect. Nottingham still has a ways to go in the catching department — the Astros and As even tried him at first base last season — but all reports indicate he wants to remain behind the plate.
Nottingham is by no means the next great defensive catcher. His footwork is definitely a priority as he had 19 passed balls last season, but he wouldn’t be the first young catcher to struggle with passed balls early in his career. He threw out 38% of his base runners (35-for-92) so he could improve some there, but clearly has the ability to throw out some runners. Learning to be a better all around receiver for an Double-A pitching staff is a challenge for any 20-year old catching prospect and it is no different for Nottingham.
Derby is a nice addition as well. The 2015 sixth round pick looked good in a small sample size in the New York/Penn League going 1-0 with a 0.78 ERA and 0.84 WHIP. The 5 foot 11 righty struck out 45 and walked 10 over 34.2 innings.
But Nottingham was the major piece in this trade and it opens doors for the Brewers. Lucroy will almost certainly be moved before the deadline. Nottingham has the power and has shown glimpses of the defensive potential needed to one day succeed on the big league level. Even if Nottingham can’t stick behind the plate and is one day the first baseman, the Brewers got what they needed. Khris Davis is who he is, a 28-year old big power bat. Nottingham still has youth and potential on his side, and should he continue to progress through Double-A and possibly even some Triple-A this season, he could be the Brewers catcher of the future as soon as 2018.