Brewers’ Lucroy steps up to, and behind, the plate
ANAHEIM, Calif. Jonathan Lucroy’s facial expression rarely changes.
It is typically the kind of face that plays well at a Las Vegas poker table, unchanging and stiff-lipped.
It did not work so well that day in a Phoenix clubhouse, however. Despite trying his best to be unemotional, Lucroy’s demeanor told the story of his feelings after being told he would begin the season with Class AA Huntsville though he was certain he had earned a chance to start at Class AAA Nashville.
Now he is the No. 1 catcher for the Milwaukee Brewers, a lightning-fast rise brought on by circumstance and his determination to prove people wrong even if they never doubted his ability.
“I’m a very internally driven person,” Lucroy said. “I didn’t take it personal. What happened was a business decision, and I totally understood it, but still, it motivated me to get after it and prove somebody wrong.
“My thing is if somebody tells me I can’t do something, I’m going to tell them, ‘Watch.’ I try to go out and prove people wrong if they tell me something different. That’s just how I am.”
He is also a little bit lucky.
Lucroy, 24, could easily be stuck in Huntsville right now, raking his way to fine offensive numbers and handling the Class AA pitching staff with relative ease. After all, he was sent there because the team didn’t want to demote Angel Salome after he already spent a season with Nashville, so Lucroy had to bide his time in the pecking order even if it had already become clear he was ahead of Salome on the organizational depth chart.
But a strange occurrence involving Salome, once the Brewers’ top catching prospect, allowed Lucroy to take a step up. Salome left Nashville for the birth of a child and then left the club because of mental preparedness issues that landed him in doctors’ offices and extended spring training before he eventually asked the Brewers to switch positions from catcher to the outfield.
The circumstances were unfortunate for the team, but Lucroy benefited.
In 10 games with Huntsville, Lucroy hit .452 (19 for 42) with a .500 on-base percentage. When he was called to Nashville, Lucroy played 21 games there and struggled, hitting .238 (19 for 80) with a .265 OBP.
Those offensive struggles aside, Lucroy had become the organization’s top catching prospect—the Brewers haven’t had a homegrown big-league catcher since Mike Matheny in the mid-’90s—and when Brewers starter Gregg Zaun was lost for the season with a shoulder injury, Lucroy was summoned to his first 25-man roster.
“We had a situation in the catching department, and it was unfortunate we had to send him to Double-A, but he accepted it with the attitude that he was going to go down there and work hard,” Brewers manager Ken Macha said.
Lucroy has studied and implemented gobs of information into his performance, behind the plate and with the bat. A mere eight starts into his big-league career, Lucroy has forced Macha to make him the new No. 1 option behind the plate in front of George Kottaras, who has struggled with the bat ( .206) and throwing out base stealers (1 of 27).
Lucroy is batting a solid .314 (11 for 35), but it is his s strong arm and improving footwork that forced Macha to make him the Brewers’ starting catcher over the veteran Kottaras.
start and watch opponents swipe bags, or he could go with the inexperienced rookie and let him learn on the fly as he controlled the running game.
He has done the last part, throwing out three of eight base stealers, but the more impressive part of Lucroy’s rise has been his game-calling skills, a product of his constant studying that even occasionally has him at stadiums before the early-to-rise Macha.
Peterson labeled game-calling “an abstract art,” one at which Lucroy has fared well given his inexperience. It is a rarity that Lucroy peeks into the dugout during an at-bat and finds he and Peterson and Macha are not on the same page. In fact, Macha can only recount a couple of times he had to question Lucroy about pitch selection.
That is credited to his study habits.
“Here you’re under more of a microscope,” Lucroy said. “People pick you apart more. If I mess up, I don’t want it to be because I wasn’t prepared or because I didn’t put the work in. If I fail, I want it to be because I fail, not because I didn’t work hard enough.”
That is an approach Peterson loves.
“He’s been a breath of fresh air,” Peterson said. “There’s just so much, and it can be overwhelming, but he has handled it spectacularly.
“This is an ongoing process. It’s kind of like fine wine. It matures over years because it’s never a finished product. For a young catcher, it’s challenging, but he’s matured very fast.”