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."
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.
Gorzelanny on verge of first game action
MILWAUKEE -- A team with three left-handers already in its bullpen has another closing in on a significant step in his return from injury. Brewers reliever Tom Gorzelanny is nearing a Minor League rehabilitation assignment.
Gorzelanny, who underwent surgery in December to repair damage to his rotator cuff and labrum, had hoped to be in Milwaukee before the end of April, but his left shoulder did not cooperate. He is back on track now, and could be assigned to an affiliate in the coming days, assistant general manager Gord Ash said.
"He'll need the full 30 days," Ash said. "It's like starting Spring Training again."
Because of that timeline, the Brewers will not need to make a decision on the make-up of their Major League bullpen for some weeks. Currently, Will Smith, Zach Duke and seldom-used Rule 5 Draft pick Wei-Chung Wang are all active for the Brewers.
Brewers officials won't worry themselves about the potential crowd there until Gorzelanny gets close to being Major League-ready.
Gomez showing power, patience in leadoff spot
MILWAUKEE -- Brewers manager Ron Roenicke would love to see a lot more of what Carlos Gomez showed him in Monday's series opener against the D-backs.
In arguably his best all-around game this season, Gomez hit the first pitch he saw for a leadoff home run, then saw 26 more pitches on the way to finishing 2-for-2 with three walks and three RBIs in an 8-3 victory. It was only the second three-walk game of Gomez's free-swinging career, and also only the second time he reached safely five times in a game.
In terms of "win probability added," a stat that measures how a player contributed to his team's chances of winning a given game, it was Gomez's second-most impactful performance of the season. He scored his top WPA on Thursday, when Gomez delivered a tying double in the seventh inning of an eventual loss to the Reds.
"Carlos puts a lot of fear in the other side leading off," Roenicke said.
With the Brewers' offense coming off a poor showing in Cincinnati, Roenicke and his coaches considered dropping Gomez into the three-hole for Monday's game, but opted instead to keep him in the leadoff. Gomez was back atop the lineup Tuesday night, and has started there for all 34 of the Brewers' games.
Part of the reason, Roenicke said, is there are few better options. Shortstop Jean Segura "isn't comfortable" hitting first, according to Roenicke, and second baseman Scooter Gennett rarely walks.
At the end of Spring Training, Roenicke settled on Gomez as his pick to bat first, and urged Gomez to stick with his aggressive approach.
"When he gets a little crazy and swings at pitches out of the zone -- that's what [opponents] are hoping for," Roenicke said. "What he did last night, where he's really watching the ball, watching spin and not chasing, there's not a lot they can do."
Gomez said he had a special level of focus on Monday.
"I had a plan today before the game started," he said. "When I drove my car over here, I thought a little bit. The last five, six games, I feel so good that I was swinging at pitches out of the strike zone too much. [On Monday], when I hit [batting practice], I was looking for pitches I could [put a] good swing on it. That's how I started everything."
• Ash expressed optimism about striking deals to extend the Brewers' player development contracts with Triple-A Nashville and Double-A Huntsville before those agreements expire this fall. Both franchises are moving into new ballparks next year, with the Double-A franchise moving to Biloxi, Miss.
Ash said that PDC talks with those clubs, plus Class A Advanced Brevard County and rookie-level Helena, will probable gain steam after the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.
"In both situations," Ash said, referring specifically to Nashville and Huntsville/Biloxi, "there's been good dialogue. There were some requests, and we've met all of them and both teams are playing well."
Ash was in Nashville last week and met with the Sounds' new ownership. He visited the construction site of the team's future home.