It wasn't long ago that Milwaukee's organizational depth at this position was almost nonexistent—a problem in the big leagues in general—but that can't be said now as several prospects have given the franchise hope for a brighter future.
Here is BrewerUpdate.com's current ranking of the top catching prospects in the system.
1. Angel Salome
The 2004 fifth-round selection hit .318 in the Florida State League in 2007 and took his offensive game to another level this past season, leading the Southern League and the organization in hitting with a .360 average. He showed pop with 45 extra-base hits, including 13 homers, and knocked in 83 runs. His on-base percentage was .415 and he slugged at a .559 clip for a .973 OPS.
He was a September call-up and went hitless in three at-bats. Salome should open up and spend most of 2009 at Triple-A Nashville, depending on Milwaukee's plans at backup behind Jason Kendall.
Slated for the Arizona Fall League, unfortunately he missed valuable experience because rotator cuff irritation shelved him after only one game and four at-bats. Time against the top prospects around the majors would have been important, especially defensively, the area that he and the team's other catching prospects must show they can be proficient at to take the next step.
2. Jonathan Lucroy
A third-round pick in the 2007 draft, Lucroy is on a fast track after registering the sixth-best average (.342) in the rookie Pioneer League and batting .299 in Hawaiian Winter League play last year. He backed it up with another fine campaign in '08, batting .292 in 64 games at Brevard County and then .310 at West Virginia in the final 65 contests, helping the Power reach the South Atlantic League championship series. The right-handed hitter combined for 20 homers and 77 RBI, a .377 OBP and .872 OPS, adding nine stolen bases in 12 attempts.
That production should merit a promotion to Double-A Huntsville for the Louisiana-Lafayette product. Again, defense will be a key, but he showed great potential by throwing out 45 percent of enemy runners trying to steal.
3. Eric Fryer
The Ohio State product split duties between catching and the outfield, so his status is hard to gauge defensively. With a bat in his hands, there were few questions as Fryer topped West Virginia, the league's best hitting squad, with a .335 average, .407 OBP and .914 OPS. He contributed 41 extra-base hits, including 10 long balls, and knocked in 63 runs. Fryer also stole 15 bases in 18 attempts.
Fryer smacked left-handed pitchers to the tune of .370 and hit .323 versus righties. He got hot in the second half, batting .354, while hitting .363 overall with runners in scoring position. Quite impressive considering he finished with a .209 average in 43 games at Helena in 2007.
Although Fryer batted only .120 (3 for 25) in six postseason contests, it's a good bet that he'll be playing at Huntsville. Defensive progress will be the key as he committed 14 errors in making the transition to outfield play and going back and forth between positions.
4. Brett Lawrie
The team's No. 1 choice in June (16th overall) didn't begin his professional career in '08 because he first participated in the World Junior Championships in Edmonton, not signing a contract (for $1.7 million) until Aug. 5. He then flew off with Team Canada for the Olympics, where he finished 0 for 10 with two RBI.
Lawrie, 18, is an advanced hitter for most youngsters because the Brookswood Secondary School (Langley, B.C.) graduate used wooden bats for several years. He has played in the infield and outfield but started his indoctrination as a catcher in the Arizona instructional league.
He was named the top hitter in the Junior Championships after leading participants with a .469 batting average, three homers and 16 RBI, making the all-tourney team at his new position. So, Milwaukee's brass will give him every opportunity to make it there, and he could move up this list and the minor league ladder quickly if he develops defensively.
It will be interesting to see where the organization starts him next spring.
5. Shawn Zarraga
He led the woeful Arizona Brewers with a .300 batting average, going 33 for 110 in 36 games. Zarraga's offensive output included nine doubles, two homers and 16 RBI, a wonderful OBP of .432 because he drew 23 walks and struck out only 24 times. He also committed four errors.
The right-handed hitting backstop from Trinity Christian Academy (Fla.) was drafted in the 44th round in 2007 and hit .471 against southpaws and should start in Helena or Appleton this season.
On the radar
Vinny Rottino: The Racine native plied his trade full-time in 2008, but it's doubtful that he will get a full-time gig at catcher, although it will add to his versatility and hopes of making a big-league roster. The position switch contributed mightily to a .260 average that included 72 strikeouts and 31 walks with seven homers and 55 RBI in 118 games at Nashville.
Michael Roberts: Selected in the 38th round out of Virginia Military Institute in '08, he batted .270 with three homers and 23 RBI in 36 games at Helena but had eight errors.
Corey Kemp: He was picked in the 14th round this past summer from East Carolina. Like Roberts a right-handed hitter, he batted .253 in 53 games with 12 extra-base hits among his 50 total while making six errors in the Pioneer League.