So much for a sophomore slump for Biloxi Shuckers catcher Jacob Nottingham.
The Milwaukee Brewers is spending his second year at Double-A and has seen steady growth from a year ago both offensively and defensively.
Entering Wednesday’s series opener at the Mississippi Braves, Nottingham is hitting .230 with a .337 on-base percentage and a .376 slugging percentage, which equates to a .713 OPS. Through 70 games, Nottingham has 19 doubles, 24 extra-base hits and 31 RBIs with 22 walks and 54 strikeouts. The numbers are a nice improvement over his Double-A debut in 2016, when he had a .641 OPS. While he’s on pace to hit fewer homers in ’17 — he hit 11 last year — he has already hit more doubles and should easily clear his RBI total while improving his strikeout and walk rates.
After hitting a whopping .317 with two homers, 11 RBIs and a .925 OPS in June, the Brewers named Nottingham their Minor League Player of the Month.
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It was a welcomed spike in performance for Nottingham, who hit a lowly .150 in April before improving to .277 in May.
Nottingham said the key was trying to simplify his approach at the plate.
“Try not to think too much — get a good pitch to hit,” he said. “There’s a lot of good pitcher sin this league but obviously they’re going to make mistakes so the biggest thing is to capitalize on it and take it from there.”
Nottingham has fallen back into a bit of a funk this month, however, hitting .146 through 13 games.
“I think just getting into a good routine and sticking with the routine,” he said of reclaiming his June form. “It comes down to swinging at good pitches and putting the barrel on the ball and whatever happens, happens.”
The Shuckers and specifically manager Mike Guerrero have seen a maturation of Nottingham behind the plate. His pitch calling is still a work in progress, but the 22-year-old has improved his statistics in 2017.
Nottingham caught 831 1/3 innings last year and finished with a .983 fielding percentage with 15 errors and 21 passed balls. He also threw out 29.3 percent of base stealers. He’s improved across the board this year, boasting a .994 fielding percentage with a 39.5 percent success rate at throwing out runners. He has also cut his passed ball and error totals down to seven and three respectively.
“He has done a great job and has improved behind the plate receiving and throwing. You can see it in the stats he has improved so much,” Guerrero said Monday. “There is still areas to improve defensively, but so far he has done a pretty good job growing up behind the plate.”
Veteran minor league catcher Rene Garcia recently rejoined the Shuckers, which was a welcomed reunion according to Nottingham.
“He’s a smart baseball player. He helps a lot. I pick his brain a lot,” Nottingham said. “If you watch him catch, it’s easy and effortless. He’s a great guy to have.”
The uptick in offensive production has been nice, but if Nottingham is going to get “the call,” it’s his continued progression in the field that will likely make the difference.
“When you look at major league catchers, the first thing they ask is ‘can he handle a pitching staff? Can he call a good game? Can he receive? Can he block? Can he manage the game from behind (the plate)?’” Guerrero said. “Those are the types of things you have to be aware of.”