What catchers really think about Brewers pitchers
This story was excerpted from Adam McCalvy’s Brewers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.
The catchers see everything in Spring Training, from the first bullpen session of report day to the final out of the exhibition season.
So we went around the room and asked them: Who has stood out in Brewers camp?
“I’ve caught Corbin Burnes the most, but we have a lot of talent everywhere, including down in the Minor Leagues,” said William Contreras, Milwaukee's new frontline catcher. “When you catch him for the first time, it’s incredible. There’s only one pitch in the Majors like that [cutter]. Such big movement. Such high speed. It’s pretty awesome.”
Much of Contreras’ work has focused on the Brewers’ mainstays, pitchers such as Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, Freddy Peralta and others. Contreras must be on the same page with all of them by the time the regular season rolls around.
Then there is a catcher like Payton Henry, who is back with the Brewers after a few years away and could be the first callup should the Brewers need a replacement for Contreras or Victor Caratini.
“A common guy I keep seeing is Matt Bush,” Henry said. “It’s the power, but it’s more the sharpness of every pitch. He’s got a freaking nasty curveball, and his four-seam is one of the best in the league. It’s really fun to not know a guy like that and then get to catch him right off the bat. It’s like, ‘OK.’ It definitely raises your eyebrows.”
Of course, pitchers like Burnes, the 2021 National League Cy Young Award winner, are looking good this spring. So are Woodruff, who loves where his curveball is at, and Peralta, who is healthy after battling injuries last year. The Brewers haven’t made any pronouncements yet, but those three are lined up for the first three games of the regular season.
And it’s no surprise to hear a mention of Bush, who has some of the best raw stuff of any pitcher on the staff. He’ll be an important bridge to closer Devin Williams.
Just as interesting are the catchers’ assessments of pitchers further down the depth chart. When you phrase the question that way, a couple of names are the most common replies.
“Gus Varland,” Henry said. “He’s been very impressive. I think he’s going to be a fun one coming up because he’s got some electric stuff. I faced him in live BP and that slider is just wipeout.”
“Elvis Peguero,” Contreras said. “Big sinker. He needs to get more ‘quiet,’ more relaxed. He’ll get better with the tempo. He’ll get better command.”
“Tyson Miller is good, too,” said Brian Navarreto, who caught at Triple-A Nashville last season. “It’s a funky windup and delivery, so it makes it interesting. He commands the ball really well, too.”
Varland is a Rule 5 Draft pick, so the Brewers face a decision on whether to keep him in the bullpen. He must make the team and then stay in the Majors, or be offered back to the Dodgers. Peguero and Miller are both new to the organization, Peguero a reliever who came from the Angels in the Hunter Renfroe trade, and Miller a starter who came from the Rangers via waivers. Both Peguero and Miller have Minor League options.
“Peguero has a big sinker,” Caratini said. “Very, very good. Heavy sinker.”
Only one of the Brewers’ catchers declined to name a favorite or two. Alex Jackson just couldn’t pick a favorite.
“Honestly, truthfully,” he said, “everyone’s been pretty dang good.”