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Catching prospect Zarraga turning heads

MILWAUKEE -- A commitment to offseason conditioning was behind 25-year-old catcher Shawn Zarraga's breakthrough April at Double-A Huntsville, making Zarraga a bona fide Brewers prospect.

"He's always had the hitting capability, but he's never been a very good defender," assistant general manager Gord Ash said. "I talked to him at the end of last year and I said, 'If you really want to be serious, you'd better get home and get in condition,' and he did. He lost 20-25 pounds."

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It made a big difference in Zarraga's mobility behind the plate, Ash said, and the offensive numbers are again impressive. Zarraga entered Tuesday batting .441 (26-for-59) with a .500 on-base percentage in his first 22 games. His career OBP in the Minors is a solid .372.

"He has turned himself into a [capable defensive catcher]," Ash said. "Switch-hitter, and if you can hit like that, you've got a chance. … Every time I see him, I pat him on the back."

Once a position of weakness in the organization, catching spots are now well-stocked with home-grown players. Zarraga was a 44th-round Draft pick in 2007, the same year the Brewers drafted big league starter Jonathan Lucroy in the third round. Zarraga's catching partner at Huntsville, Adam Weisenburger, was a 34th-round pick in 2011. At Advanced Class A Brevard County, Cameron Garfield was a second-round pick in 2009 and Parker Berberet a 25th-round pick in 2011. 

At Class A Wisconsin, Clint Coulter was the Brewers' top pick in 2012, and Rafael Neda was a 10th rounder in 2010. Coulter will be 21 in July and may be out-growing the position as he fills out and gains strength, Ash said, but the Brewers remain committed to him at the position. Coulter batted .301 with five homers and 22 RBIs in his first 27 games at Wisconsin and was named the Brewers' Minor League player of the month for April.

"He's going to stay there as long as he can," Ash said. 

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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