MILWAUKEE -- Free-agent catcher Yadier Molina might not be the most popular player in Milwaukee, but here’s one reason for the city to like him: Molina is helping to mentor the Brewers’ catcher of the future.
Mario Feliciano, Milwaukee’s No. 4 prospect per MLB Pipeline and the top-ranked prospect already on the Brewers’ 40-man roster, is bidding to join a long list of Major League catchers from Puerto Rico, which includes the Molina brothers, Iván Rodríguez, Jorge Posada and others. A number of Brewers catchers have hailed from the island, most recently Martín Maldonado.
“For me, it’s big,” Feliciano said. “I work out with Yadier Molina, and he’s my favorite player. I see him every day. I train with him. I listen to him. Every day he brings something new for me. It’s stupendous, and I’m so happy.”
Feliciano spoke to MLB.com’s David Venn in Spanish during last week’s Rookie Program. The joint venture between Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association was held virtually in 2021 after taking place in Miami each of the past two years.
For Feliciano, there’s a lot to be happy about this winter. On Nov. 20, his 22nd birthday, he was among the prospects added to Milwaukee’s 40-man roster and thus protected from December’s Rule 5 Draft. It marked a significant step toward the big leagues for Feliciano and pitchers Alec Bettinger and Dylan File, because beginning this spring, the Brewers will have to burn an option to send one of those players to the Minors. Typically, players have three option years.
“This has been a pretty consistent performer at young ages throughout his Minor League career for us,” Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns said of Feliciano. “He’s always been young for his level. He plays the hardest position on the field. And he’s done it well. There’s a reason he’s routinely considered one of our top prospects.”
Notably, another high-profile Brewers catching prospect, Payton Henry, was left unprotected. Club officials were relieved a few weeks later when Henry went unclaimed in the Rule 5 Draft and remained Brewers property.
Henry and Feliciano are part of a crowded crop of Brewers catchers. Omar Narváez and Manny Piña are positioned at the top of the depth chart, followed by a group that includes Jacob Nottingham and David Freitas, who are out of options, and free-agent signee Luke Maile, who has options.
Considering the deep field, Feliciano said his aim for 2021 is "to be healthy and to be there for whatever the team needs.”
The Brewers drafted Feliciano 75th overall in 2016, and he sailed through two Minor League seasons before running into right shoulder trouble in 2018 that eventually required surgery. He returned in 2019 to win MVP honors in the Class A Advanced Carolina League, hitting .273/.324/.477 with 19 home runs and 81 RBIs.
The performance helped earn Feliciano a spot in the Brewers’ 60-man player pool in 2020, affording him an opportunity to continue developing despite the lack of a Minor League season. Like all young catchers, Feliciano focused on his receiving. He said he also aimed to cut some swing and miss from his offensive game.
“I started to think like I did when I was little,” Feliciano said of rebounding from his trying 2018. “You’d go to the park just to have fun, just to think of something so simple as seeing the ball and swinging at it. I tried to go for the simplest things, and that was it. That helped me a lot to have fun. I’d put a lot of pressure on myself, but that year I just went out there to have fun and play the sport I love. Thank God, those were the results.”