This is the third in a nine-part series previewing the Milwaukee Brewers by position leading up to Opening Day on April 6.
ON THE ROSTER:
2014 IN REVIEW:
The Brewers received more production out the catcher position than any other team in baseball, as Jonathan Lucroy took yet another step forward in 2014. Lucroy hit .301 with 13 home runs, 69 RBI and a franchise-record tying 53 doubles to finish fourth in the National League Most Valuable Player voting. His 46 doubles as a catcher were the most in baseball history, while he became the first primary catcher in history to lead his league in doubles.
The 28-year-old was selected to his first All-Star Game and ended up starting the game after Yadier Molina was forced to drop out due to an injury.
Lucroy also thrived behind the plate, as he was a finalist for a Gold Glove Award at catcher. Known as one of the best pitch framers in the game, Milwaukee’s pitchers had a 3.62 ERA when he caught.
Only Kansas City’s Salvador Perez (146) caught more games than Lucroy, who was behind the plate for 136 of Milwaukee’s 162 games. The heavy workload likely took its toll on Lucroy, as he hit just .241 in July and August before rebounding with a strong September.
Martin Maldonado continued to provide the Brewers with one of the best backup catchers in baseball. The defensive stalwart made just 29 starts at catcher in 2014, but he allowed just 13 stolen bases in 274 1/3 innings. After struggling to replicate his 2012 offensive production in 2013, Maldonado found a happy medium by hitting .234 with four home runs and 16 RBI in 111 at-bats.
With Lucroy signed through 2017 and Maldonado controlled by the club through 2019, the Brewers are set at catcher for the near future. Lucroy is one of baseball’s biggest bargains, as he will make just $3 million in 2015.
Lucroy is becoming the face of the Brewers franchise, as he’s featured on the cover of the team’s media guide and at the center of advertising campaigns. The next step is for Lucroy to become a vocal leader in the clubhouse, something the Brewers lacked as they fell apart down the stretch last season.
In order to keep Lucroy fresh over the long season, the Brewers will likely catch Maldonado more in 2015. Lucroy was slated to see time at first base during spring training, but that has yet to happen.
Unlike last year, the Brewers have a third catcher on the 40-man roster. 25-year-old Juan Centeno has big-league experience and will provide insurance at Triple-A Nashville should an injury occur.
KEY TO SUCCESS
The Brewers must find a way to keep Lucroy fresh and healthy throughout the entire season. That will mean finding times to give him an occasional day off in addition to saving his legs for a game by playing him at first base.
"Luc is just such a great hitter. He has a great approach. Maybe he doesn’t hit 50 doubles this year, but I think he’s going to have an outstanding year offensively." — Brewers manager Ron Roenicke
"I was guilty of it last year, taking things for granted. I thought we were going to be awesome all year and next thing you know, come September, we started slumping. I take responsibility for not stopping it in its tracks. It’s just recognizing the signs of going through a tough time and doing whatever you have to do to get guys positive, get them excited, get them motivated and turn things around. We have to go back to doing the little and simple things so we can turn around and turn them into big things. It’s a process and I’m learning more every day. That’s all you can do." — Lucroy
"Maldy is a great catcher, he is. He has one of the best arms in the league from behind the plate and he can definitely hold his own back there. I was happy to see him get that contract because there aren’t many backup catchers out there that can do what he does." — Lucroy on Maldonado