Martin Maldonado is no longer a member of the Milwaukee Brewers, and as sad as that is for most Brewers fans, it was the right move. The backup catcher was moved to the Los Angeles Angels — along with minor league reliever Drew Gagnon — for 26-year-old catcher Jett Bandy, who by the way, has just a dope name. I wrote about Maldonado’s future a few weeks ago, and although I predicted he’d remain with the Crew for one more season, I’m not at all surprised by the trade.
So the Brewers got rid of one catcher for another catcher, meaning Milwaukee still has three backstops who could essentially start on Opening Day. They have Andrew Susac, who was a part of the Will Smith trade. They have Manny Pina, who put up an impressive .346 OBP in the majors last season. And lastly, the Brewers could pick the newcomer, Jett Bandy, who was worth 0.7 WAR in 70 games for the Angels in 2016.
Later in this post, I’m going to ask you to choose which one should get the majority of playing time during the upcoming season, but for now, let’s talk about each one individually.
Pina is 29 years old but has just 98 major league plate appearances to his name, with 82 percent of them coming last season. In 33 games for the Brewers, Pina was above-average defensively and just below the average line with his bat with a 98 wRC+. Despite that, though, he impressed at the plate. He walked over 12 percent of the time, and that contributed to a .346 OBP. Now, we must take into account his small sample size. Like I said earlier, he’s barely had a cup of coffee in the major leagues, so we really don’t know if that’s his true talent level. I mean, if it was, wouldn’t you think that he would’ve been given more of a chance in previous years?
For the most part, Pina hasn’t been anything special in the minor leagues. In fact, one could argue that he was just plain bad. But something changed in 2016 when he was in Triple-A as a member of the Detroit Tigers. He posted career highs in wRC+ (147) and OBP (.379) and continued that production when he was picked up by Milwaukee. Other than that year, though, it’s clear why Pina has fewer than 100 plate appearances in the majors.
Pina doesn’t have much power to speak of — he has just 55 home runs across 11 seasons in the minors — and definitely ranks last in that category when compared to Bandy and Susac. So if the Brewers ride with him, they’ll be giving up some offensive fortitude in exchange for solid defense. And that isn’t a bad thing. Having a sound defensive catcher is more prudent than ever before, and that’s essentially what Maldonado was. He had more pop than Pina, but he was most known for his defensive abilities.
Prediction: I don’t think Pina will make the Opening Day roster. Yes, he had a surprising season a year ago, but his minor league track record says that it won’t happen again. Plus, he’ll be 30 in June, too old to be a crucial part in Milwaukee’s rebuild.
Susac will be 27 by the time the season kicks off, which means he should be entering his prime playing days, and from the little I’ve seen of the former backup to Buster Posey, I’m encouraged.
In 262 plate appearances, Susac has produced a .317 wOBA and a 104 wRC+ (four percent above league average). Now, his wOBA and OBP (.309) are not desirable. He has too many holes in his swing and needs to improve his contact rate (72.2 percent) and cut down on his whiffs (13 percent). To his credit, though, he has more power than people give him credit for. I think his ceiling his 20 home runs and his floor is around 10 during a full major league season. That may not seem like a lot, but that’s about where Jonathan Lucroy landed. And of course I’m not saying Susac is the next All-Star catcher in Milwaukee. I’m simply saying he has some untapped power potential. Steamer, a projection system used by FanGraphs, has him pegged for nine home runs in just 267 plate appearances in 2017. The power is there, guys.
He was always a good hitter in the minors. I wouldn’t call him great, but he’s definitely proved he has a chance to be the everyday guy. He didn’t do much in 148 plate appearances with the Giants back in 2015, but his eye at the plate that year (9.5 BB%) and last year with Milwaukee (10.5 BB%) tell me he’s on the right track. I just think he needs a legitimate chance.
Prediction: Susac is a better all-around baseball player than Pina, so I think that gives him the leg up. I’d be very surprised if Susac failed to make the roster out of spring training, and I think he has a very good chance to get the Opening day nod from manager Craig Counsell.
Like Susac, Bandy will be 27 by the time the season starts up, and last year was his first shot in the majors. In 231 plate appearances, Bandy accumulated an 83 wRC+ (yuck), a .281 OBP (ew) and a .289 wOBA (puke). Yeah, he was not good at all. But don’t panic. There’s a lot to like about this guy. And guess what? I’m about to tell you what those things are.
Bandy was plagued by a .246 BABIP last season. The major league average on balls in play was .300, and of the 323 hitters with at least 230 PAs, he had the 22nd-lowest mark. Although he finished just a tick below league average in terms of hard-hit rate (27.5%), he exceeded league average on balls hit with medium speed (51.1%), so it’s fair to say Bandy was fairly unlucky during his first year in the bigs.
David Stearns traded for him because he believes in his power potential. Stearns is the first to admit that it hasn’t shown up in his stats, but Milwaukee’s GM sees the hidden value, and once again, I have to agree with The Wizard. Just like I said about Susac, I believe Bandy can be a power-hitting catcher if given the chance to play everyday. He hit a combined 24 bombs in Double-A and Triple-A during the 2014 and 2015 season and crushed eight for the Angels in ’16. His profile is very similar to Susac’s, and that could set up a dynamic catching duo for the Brewers.
Above everything else, Bandy is a lethal defensive catcher. According to FanGraphs’ defensive rating (Def), he ranked above-average in 2016. He threw out 17 base stealers, which was fourth in the American League and first among rookies. He’s got a rocket for an arm, and if he could just improve his skills as a pitch framer, he could legitimately be one of the best defensive catchers in baseball.
Prediction: It’s going to come down between Bandy and Susac, with Susac ultimately getting the majority of the playing time to begin the season. I do think, however, that Bandy will supplant Susac as the starter midway through the season and never look back.
Now it’s time for you to tell me what you think.