In Brett Sullivan, the Brewers have found a number three catcher who can also play the corners in both the infield and outfield...because of course they have.
Free-agent catcher Brett Sullivan in agreement with the Milwaukee Brewers on a one-year, major-league contract, according to a source familiar with the situation. Sullivan, who has played six minor-league seasons, will be Brewers’ No. 3 catcher and can play corner INF/OF.— Robert Murray (@ByRobertMurray) November 29, 2021
Even though Brett Sullivan hasn’t been featured on top prospect lists, the Brewers couldn’t pass up the defensive versatility and depth that he offers. While he is primarily a catcher and secondarily a third baseman, he can hold down the corners anywhere on the field. It makes sense for the resourceful Brewers to go ahead and put Sullivan on the 40-man for the utility he offers. Importantly, he also comes with all three of his minor league options.
This positions Sullivan, who has been in Tampa’s farm system since 2015, for his major league debut (pending, of course, the end of the lockout and likely, a concurrence of injuries higher on up the depth chart).
Sullivan is an infielder turned catcher, and his greatest defensive value is in his utility. That said, he’s used his athleticism, willingness to learn, and confident and calm demeanor to develop into a solid catcher.
He's had the best Triple-A performance behind the plate compared to the rest of the Brewers’ catching staff. Considering how much Omar Narváez has developed during his time with the Brewers and how much room Pedro Severino has to grow, it’s not the strongest endorsement. Still, he has the potential to develop into a strong defensive catcher in the system that developed all-around catcher Narváez and defensive stalwart Manny Piña before his move to Atlanta earlier this offseason.
Already, Sullivan is an effective pitch manager with set-ups and stances tailored for each pitcher. He’s a solid receiver and pitch framer. Over six seasons in Tampa Bay’s farm system, he’s also become a quick study of pitchers. When it comes to catching runners stealing, Sullivan has dialed in all the set-up and receiving techniques to shave microseconds off his delivery, and the numbers for his most recent Triple-A season look more like those of Manny Piña in his call-up year than Narváez’ or Severino’s.
Sullivan is an old-school hitter, much heavier on contact than on power. He has a classic and compact “short to it, long through it” swing to make contact at a high rate. In 2017, Baseball America ranked his strike zone judgment the best in the Florida State League. He’s hit for the cycle twice in his career, once in college at the University of the Pacific and once for the Tampa Bay Double-A affiliate Birmingham Biscuits in 2019. In his six seasons in the minors, he’s slashed .271/.317/.426 (.743 OPS).
What’s really impressive is Sullivan’s strikeout rate. In his 2021 Triple-A season, he had the highest strikeout rate of his minor league career, a mere 15.7%. Across his time in the minors, he’s struck out only 12.3% of at-bats. 2021 was a bit of a down year offensively for Sullivan, who slashed .223/.302/.375 over ninety games. He also flashed some power across those games, hitting nine home runs. The Brewers are right to see potential in Sullivan, and they have every reason to believe they can unlock something in the quick-to-the-ball lefty. Sullivan already looks more like himself across fifty plate appearances in the Dominican League, where he’s slashed .273/.360/.364.
Because of the lockout, it’s a bittersweet time to be on the 40-man and eyeing a major league debut. Hopefully, Sullivan will get some Spring Training reps in 2022 and a chance to show the Brewers what he can do in the big leagues.
Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.