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Backing up Damian Miller

It won't be Mike Piazza--he just signed a one-year deal for $2 million with the San Diego Padres.  Of course, the Brewers should've signed him for that amount.

Another guy who is at least nominally in the mix this spring is Vinny Rottino, local boy and multi-position wonder.  Rottino started out as an overage masher in the low minors, but last year the organization decided to give his versatility a look, using him extensively at catcher.  Obviously, a guy with power (really, anybody) is more valuable if they can catch, especially in the Milwaukee system, where the post-Damian era is completely up for grabs.

Rottino has been invited to Major League spring training, though it's common for teams to invite just about every mobile catcher in the system to s.t., as they're good to have around to catch all those non-roster pitcher invites.  So, stuck behind Miller, Moeller, Mike Rivera, and Mark Johnson, Rottino is probably going to have a great experience for a couple of weeks, then head to minor league camp, then on to Huntsville.

But Rottino will be an interesting guy to watch.  His MLEs at Huntsville last year suggest he would've been an improvement on Moeller (this is a theme here at BCB--every other day, I must point out somebody who would be an improvement over Chad's 2005 production), and while he has been old for each level he's played so far, he looks positioned to make his major league debut in 2006 or '07, his age 26 and 27 years--not uncommon for a non-prospect catcher.  

Long-time readers know that I love versatile guys and the roster flexibility they bring, so here's my ideal situation.  At some point in '06, a corner outfielder or infielder will get hurt for a while, moving, say Corey Hart or Gabe Gross into a full-time role and opening up their slot on the bench.  Rottino gets the call--he can play the corners as well as catch--which turns into an audition for him behind the plate, as well as briefly gives the Brewers three catchers.  It doesn't matter to me whether Rottino shines too much in the tryout, as long as he looks professional enough to convince Yost and the front office that he's a potential major-league guy behind the plate.  

If Melvin sees Rottino as an option to replace Moeller in 2007, they won't need to re-sign Chad.  '07 spring training then turns into an open tryout for Rottino, Mike Rivera, and maybe a non-roster invite like JR House would be this year to compete for the job as Miller's backup.  Each year, the Crew's backup catcher is more important: Miller is getting to the age where the chances of him breaking down increase, and he'll need more and more time off.

Whether Rottino is ready to take over as full-time catcher--or perhaps remain as a backup to a resurgent Lou Palmisano--in 2008, I don't know, and of course it's way too early to project that sort of thing.  But even if he's never more than a backup catcher/super utility guy, he's on schedule to hit the Majors in his age 27 or age 28 season, which are historically when many players hit their peak.  I only hope that the Brewers recognize his potential, keep working with him behind the plate, and give him a chance to be more than your stereotypical high-power, high-strikeout AAAA first baseman.