We’ve gotten to that point deep in baseball’s offseason where just about everyone (including us) is talking about prospects. This week, MLB Pipeline has begun the run-up to their updated organizational rankings and overall top 100 by starting to unveil their top 10 prospects by position. Pipeline revealed their top 10 catching prospects yesterday, and sliding in at #10 is Milwaukee Brewers farmhand Jacob Nottingham.
Nottingham came to Milwaukee as a part of the return for outfielder Khris Davis last February, though his first year in the organization was a bit of a forgettable one. In his first exposure to the AA level with Biloxi, Jacob managed only a .234/.295/.347 slash with 11 home runs in 456 plate appearances. He graded out above-average in framing by Baseball Prospectus, but caught only a middling 29% of attempted base stealers and allowed a whopping 21 passes balls in 98 games behind the plate. Jim Callis described Nottingham as “a slugger who's still figuring out the nuances of making consistent contact and cleaning up his defense.”
Those that rank ahead of Nottingham in the top 10 are: Carson Kelly (Cardinals), Francisco Mejia (Indians), Jorge Alfaro (Phillies), Zack Collins (White Sox), Chance Sisco (Orioles), Reese McGuire (Blue Jays), Tom Murphy (Rockies), Austin Barnes (Dodgers), and Jose Trevino (Rangers).
In his scouting report, Nottingham receives grades of 50 for his power and arm, but all his other tools are scored as below-average. He was given a 45 hit, 45 field, and a 30 run. Here’s part of the write up on Jacob:
Power is Nottingham's best tool, and he shows it to all fields thanks to a combination of strength, bat speed and a leveraged swing. Southern League hurlers exploited his aggressive approach and his strikeout rate spiked as a result, leading some scouts to question the future utility of his bat. They're also divided on whether Nottingham can stick behind the plate, where he shows an average arm as well as solid catch-and-throw skills but lacks consistency in his blocking and receiving.
With Jonathan Lucroy no longer in the picture, the door is open for Nottingham to become Milwaukee's catcher of the future. Provided he can get back on track this season in the Minors, Notthingham could be ready for his first big league audition in 2018.
While placing the “catcher of the future” tag on Nottingham sounds nice, in reality he’s got a lot of work to do to become a big league regular. With an overall grade of 45, Nottingham projects as a fringe-average regular/platoon bat, and he’ll be lucky to slot within the top 20 prospects in Milwaukee’s system once that list is unveiled. The fact that Nottingham is in the top 10 catching prospects probably says more about the degraded state of catching as a whole in the minor leagues than it does about Nottingham’s future utility behind the dish.
The Brewers’ front office has repeatedly expressed confidence in Nottingham’s ability to remain at catcher in spite of his current defensive issues, but if he does eventually have to move to first base it would severely limit his potential usefulness at the major league level. A .240ish hitter with ~15 home runs could work for a regular at catcher, but that level of production won’t cut it as a starting first baseman. Nottingham figures to begin 2017 back at the AA level, where his bat will hopefully bounce back during a repeat season through the league.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball Prospectus