There hasn’t been a question on who will be the Brewers’ starting catcher when the team breaks camp since the day they signed Yasmani Grandal. Who ends up being the second catcher on the roster, however, was a different story.
On the first day of workouts for pitchers and catchers, it looks like last year’s primary starter currently holds that spot. Speaking to reporters today, manager Craig Counsell said the players have been told that as of now, Manny Pina is second on the team’s catching depth chart, and Erik Kratz is third.
Craig Counsell said Manny Pina has been told he is No. 2 in #Brewers catching order behind Yasmani Grandal and Erik Kratz No. 3. Admitted that was tough for Kratz to hear.— Tom (@Haudricourt) February 14, 2019
Craig Counsell talks about his catching pecking order. pic.twitter.com/IxCPujilrp— Tom (@Haudricourt) February 14, 2019
Things may change as camp goes on, but heading into his age-39 season, Kratz appears to know what’s likely to happen. Still, it looks like he’s showing the same down-to-Earth sensibility that made him a bit of a cult hero during the Brewers’ playoff run last year:
Erik Kratz not going to mope about being No. 3 in #Brewers catching order: "How is it any different than when they chose me and got rid of Jett Bandy (last season)? It’s not different. If you think otherwise, you’re being conceited."— Tom (@Haudricourt) February 14, 2019
More from Kratz: "The game doesn’t owe anybody anything. There are plenty of guys who’ve played better than me who are out there without jobs right now. You can’t be negative about everything because you’re going to bring yourself down and everybody around you."— Tom (@Haudricourt) February 14, 2019
As Tom Haudricourt notes in a later tweet, Kratz signed a one-year deal with the Brewers in the offseason that would pay him $1.2 million in the majors and $300,000 in the minors, but Kratz is out of options, meaning the Brewers would have to pass him through waivers if they hope to keep him in the system. But even if Kratz does make it to San Antonio, his chances for playing time don’t look to be significant, as the organization likely wants to see Jacob Nottingham get as much playing time as possible in hopes of seeing him in Milwaukee once Grandal eventually moves on.
Kratz hit .236/.280/.355 for the Brewers with a 69 OPS+ in the regular season but was an asset behind the plate with his pitch-framing ability, and was a big part of the Brewers’ NLDS sweep of the Colorado Rockies by going 5-for-8 with 2 RBI. The organization may be hoping he’d be willing to be a mentor for Nottingham at the Triple-A level, helping the catching prospect with his receiving skills in a sort of player-coach role similar to the way Tim Dillard was used in Triple-A over the past few years.
Pina seems to be taking the demotion back to being a backup catcher about as well as can be expected, too. It’s not a role that’s foreign to him as that’s what he was before the past year-and-a-half or so, but it still has to be disappointing on a personal level after having finally won a starting job — even if he knows professionally it’s best for the team.
#Brewers Manny Pina on backing up Yasmani Grandal: "I need to be ready for a new role. I don’t feel mad. If they need me to play one or two times a week, I need to be ready. I'm here to help the team, too. I just want to make the playoffs again. That was a lot of fun.”— Tom (@Haudricourt) February 14, 2019
Pina consistently fought the injury bug last year in his first full year as the team’s starting catcher, and actually ended up playing in fewer games than he did in 2017 for that reason. Still, he was able to hit .252/.307/.395 with his usual strong defense behind the plate. You could do a lot worse for your backup backstop, and there’s a chance he could return to a regular starting role in 2020 if Nottingham isn’t considered quite ready at that point.
Realistically, it doesn’t seem like the catching depth chart will change much over the next few weeks. The Brewers are not the type of organization that would take a few hot weeks by a 38-year-old catcher and use that as a major factor in their decision-making process (or, maybe more accurately, they aren’t that type of organization anymore). Judging by his comments, Kratz seems to know that as well.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference