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Milwaukee Brewers Camp Battles: Catcher Update

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One player appears to be separating himself from the rest.

MLB: Spring Training-Milwaukee Brewers at Los Angeles Dodgers Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

With most of the spots in the starting lineup already filled in to start spring training, the battle for the two catching jobs was the only real open competition among Milwaukee Brewers’ position players. Three players came into camp to challenge for the two open slots, and now with less than two weeks until Opening Day let’s take a look at how that contest is shaking out:

Jett Bandy

From all indications, the organization is pretty high on Bandy, who was acquired in the Martin Maldonado-Andrew Gagnon swap with the Angels over the winter. He’s shown the strong throwing arm that he’s been known for this spring, throwing out five of eight attempted base stealers (62.5%). He hasn’t committed an error in 49.0 innings behind the plate but has yielded one passed ball. He hasn’t really set the world on fire with his bat, however, posting just a .243/.263/.297 with two doubles in 37 at-bats.

Andrew Susac

Susac, who was acquired in last summer’s Will Smith trade with the Giants (speaking of, Smith may now need Tommy John surgery), was by far the favorite among the BCB community to begin the season as the starting catcher when polled back at the end of February. The former top-100 prospect hasn’t done much to help his case this spring, however. He’s batted a mere .192/.323/.231 in 26 at-bats this spring, clubbing just one extra-base a hit (a double) while striking out a whopping 15 times. In 42.0 innings behind the plate, he’s successfully cut down just one of three potential base thieves and allowed a single passed ball. He also hasn’t been on the field since March 13th with issues pertaining to his shoulder and neck and isn’t likely to see action again until at least the end of this week.

Manny Pina

Pina is the only player among the trio that doesn’t have a minor league option remaining, so his spot on the Opening Day roster has seemed relatively safe from the get-go. His play this spring is helping to set him apart from his other competitors, however. Pina has worked the most innings among the group with 58.0. He has thrown out five of eight attempted base stealers (62.5%) and hasn’t yielded any passed balls, though he has committed one error. At the plate, Manny is hitting a stellar .405/.421/.757 in 37 at-bats, clubbing four doubles as well as three home runs (the long balls have all come in his last three games). Pina not only appears to have at least a backup role locked up, but could be convincing his manager that he deserves the starting nod on Opening Day.

Conclusion

Manny Pina felt like sort of the forgotten man in this competition when camp began, written off by most fans given his advanced age and previous minor league journeyman status. I profiled Pina as a breakout candidate for the Brewers in mid-February, and thus far in spring he’s doing his best to make good on my prediction. Manager Craig Counsell has liked what he’s seen:

“I was impressed with his (81) plate appearances last year,” manager Craig Counsell said. “It’s not a big stretch, but it was impressive. He held his own and did a nice job.

“Offensively, his game seems to have developed late in his career, a little bit. He’s a hitter.”

“Every time we look at decisions like this, on the roster, off the roster, options, no options — that’s part of the decision,” Counsell said. “It’s part of how you create depth.

“Manny is taking care of what he can take care of: that’s playing really well.”

With Pina looking like he might have the inside track to calling the game for Junior Guerra on Opening Day, that will likely slide Jett Bandy into the backup role. Even then, however, there should still be plenty of opportunity to playing time. Bandy had statistically been the stronger defensive player throughout his career, so if Pina can’t maintain his offensive advantage during the regular season it would allow Jett to get on the field more regularly.

That leaves Andrew Susac, who appears to be headed either for AAA or the disabled list to start the season, which is no doubt a disappointing outcome. Susac has been oft-injured during his young career, and given that he was stuck behind Buster Posey in San Francisco this was his first real shot at an Opening Day starting job. His shoulder and neck are reportedly beginning to feel better, but after missing so much game action he would need a couple days of throwing and hitting to get back up to speed. With only 11 days left until the Brewers take on the Rockies at Miller Park, Susac may simply be running out of time.

“I’ve been down this road before,” said Susac, who was sidelined with a wrist issue in San Francisco’s camp last spring. “It’s frustrating, for sure. It’s tough. At a time like this, it’s tough. There are different stakes here.”

Prediction: Manny Pina (starter) and Jett Bandy (backup) break camp and head north to Milwaukee while Andrew Susac begins the season in AAA and bides his time until an injury or lack of performance from either Pina or Bandy opens a door for him to get back to The Show.

Statistics courtesy of MLB.com