Well, a new season starts tonight for the Biloxi Shuckers, as they play their first game of the season up in Montgomery, against the Biscuits. As for every minor league team, and for every minor league season, it takes a little bit of time to get reacquainted with returning players, and to get acquainted with the new players.
Now, local media does a fine job in getting us up and going as knowledgeable fans. Shuckers radio announcer Chris Harris has a wonderful blog, and the SunHerald’s beat writer Patrick Magee likewise does a very good job in covering the team. However, these guys have a home team perspective – which is absolutely fine – but as a fan I’m also always interested to hear what other writers with other perspectives have to say about our team. National writers, and writers on up and across the Milwaukee Brewers universe also have a lot to say about the Shuckers, and I think it’s valuable to keep tabs on what they’re saying, too.
Across the off season I kept track of some of the things I saw written about the Shuckers, from reporters outside of Biloxi. Over the next several posts, I’ll relay what I found.
For Biloxi Shuckers on the roster tonight, I have a couple articles each discussing Nick Ramirez and Jorge Lopez, and three articles each about Louis Ortiz and Mauricio Dubon.
But the player receiving the most attention, by far, in the off season press has been Jacob Nottingham. No less than seven articles I saw included discussions about our returning catcher. From what I read, the story seems to be how the Brewers organization is still counting on him to be their catcher of the future, but what he needs to do to overcome a lackluster 2016 season, and make a case to move beyond Double-A.
Jonathan Powell at OutsidePitch previewed Nottingham for the Arizona Fall League, by noting the fall-off of his performance from his 2015 numbers. Powell’s assessment was that Nottingham’s “blocking and receiving skills still need considerable development.”
Before the 2016 season, Nottingham was ranked the No. 66 prospect by Baseball Prospectus (15thfor the Brewers) and for good reason.
During the 2015 season, he was on an offensive tear, batting .316/.372/.505 with 17 home runs, 82 runs batted in, and a pair of stolen bases in only 119 games. His defense, although admittedly raw, also began to develop, as he continued the trend of improving his fielding percentage behind the plate, up from .988 in 2014 to .993 in 2015. He also boasts a top notch 32 percent caught stealing rate throughout his minor league career.
But Nottingham still struggles in some areas and the weaknesses of his game have already started to manifest, starting last year and continuing into his first full season in Double-A — his blocking and receiving skills still need considerable development, as he allowed 19 and 21 passed balls in 2015 and 2016 respectively.
Offensively, he also experienced a down year since joining the Brewers organization in the Khris Davis trade in February. This year, he hit .234/.295/.347 with only 11 home runs and 37 RBI. On a positive note, he did also steal nine bases, a large uptick from a minor league career high of four.
The production may also largely be chalked up to poor offensive production all around, as the Shuckers produced the least amount of runs in the Southern League (471) by a large margin (next team up had 510) and also possessed the worst average (.235), on-base percentage (.304) and slugging (.338).
Matt Eddy at BaseballAmerica had this to say about Nottingham in a chat last October:
Yes, I do like Biloxi C Jacob Nottingham’s potential. I tried hard to justify getting a catcher on this list, and he turned out to be the candidate with the highest offensive ceiling with a strong chance to stay behind the plate. The SL was just too advanced for Nottingham — a 21-year-old high school catcher — but that shouldn’t be the case next season when he repeats Biloxi. It’s going to be all about putting in the time behind the plate and improving his footwork to improve his pop times. Nottingham, who caught a league-leading 98 games, should be able to hit about .250 with average to above power. He’s a good buy-low for fantasy players.
Also in October, John Sickels at MinorLeagueBall reviewed his performance for last season since he had ranked Nottingham as one of the top 50 hitting prospects at the top of 2016:
36) Jacob Nottingham, C, Brewers, Grade B+: Very shaky Double-A season, still just 21 but stock down.
Jonathan Powell, in an excellent article including several notable past, present and future Shuckers, gave this update on Nottingham’s “improvement” in the Arizona Fall League:
The only catcher in the Brewers top 30 prospects, Nottingham has shown equal parts raw talent and rough around the edges.
He had a down year with Double-A Biloxi in 2016, batting .234/.295/.347 with 11 home runs, 37 RBI and nine stolen bases in 112 games after showing excellent potential the year prior – Nottingham’s poor numbers could possibly be attributed to Biloxi’s overall poor production, as they ranked last in the league in many offensive categories. By contrast, in 2015, he established a .316/.372/.505 batting line with 17 home runs, 82 RBI and two stolen bases in 119 games.
His talent is largely rooted in his offensive abilities, as he still has quite a bit of refinement behind the plate in terms of blocking and receiving skills, according to MLB Pipeline, but given that he is only in Double-A, still has time for improvement. If nothing else, he could see a move to first base, another position the team is short on in terms of high-potential young players.
So far in the AFL, he is showing improvement in terms of production but still has a modest line, batting .256/.268/.385 with one home run and five RBI. He’s taken only one walk to nine strikeouts.
Eddie Mathews gave this pretty succinct review of his 2016 season at BrewCrewBall. Note his optimism for this year.
Jacob Nottingham spent the 2016 season in the AA Southern league with Brewers’ affiliate Biloxi. The Shuckers finished 72-67, and Nottingham was the regular catcher for the whole season, starting 94 of the 139 games. He also started 2 games a first base.
Jacob did not have a good season offensively. In 456 plate appearances he only walked 29 times and struck out 138. His 11 homers were a disappointment, and a slugging average of .347 was much lower than you would hope for.
One concern for Nottingham has been whether he will develop into a major-league capable defender. His 6’ 2” 230 lb frame is big for today’s catching model, and while he has been rated with an adequate to plus arm, his work at blocking balls and catching skills has been questioned. He had 21 passed balls last year, but the Biloxi pitching staff performed well enough, finishing third in the league in WHIP (1.26) and fourth in the league in ERA (3.59).
Indeed, the Southern League looks to have been a pitcher’s league last year. The most homeruns any team hit was 109, and the Shuckers hit 81. Nottingham’s total of 11 was actually the 6th most in the league (tied with the proverbial many). We would still like to see better production at the plate from a player we hoped was on track to become a starting catcher at the big league level, but the numbers are not quite as poor as they seem.
Nottingham is only 21, and the Southern League’s median age is 24. This was a big jump for him, and he was one of the youngest regular players in the league. It would appear that the Brewers are committed to Jacob at catcher, and we will probably see him repeating with the Shuckers next year. Continued defensive development, better plate discipline with a higher on base percentage, and better power numbers are the goals, and could lead him to AAA in 2018.
The Brewers are still wide open at catcher for the long term. Nottingham is not blocked by any player; his opportunity is real. A solid season this year and the deeper reading of his stat line will most likely keep him in the Top 10 Prospect list next spring. He is certainly a player to watch next year.
BrewCrewBall notes Nottingham landing at number 10 in MLB Pipeline’s list of top catching prospects. But they quickly add “That probably says more about the sad state of minor league catching than Nottingham’s ability, though.” Ouch!
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.
The last article I have is also from BrewCrewBall, and in it Nottingham himself discusses his 2016 season:
“I know I have a lot more in me. It’s a grind. It’s a process, and that’s what people sometimes don’t understand. Obviously, I want to get there [to the Major Leagues], but I’m not going to do too much. I feel like I did that a little last year. That’s what I’m learning from.”
My next post will review what I found folks were saying about our new and highly touted shortstop Mauricio Dubon.