MILWAUKEE — The Brewers quite possibly have the best catching duo in baseball.
On one hand that’s a great thing, on the other, it’s creating a problem because both were asked to represent their countries in the World Baseball Classic. Jonathan Lucroy will play for Team USA and Martin Maldonado for Puerto Rico, leaving Milwaukee without both catchers for the majority of spring training.
“I would much rather have our catchers there catching these guys, no doubt,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said while in Milwaukee last weekend. “I think it’s really important.”
Maybe more important this year because of the mix of inexperienced pitchers in the rotation and newly acquired pitchers in the bullpen. Though time spent together between a pitcher and catcher is valuable, Lucroy isn’t worried about it and has already prepared for his time away.
His plan is to utilize the batteries’ extra week at the beginning of spring training to get a lot of work done. There’s also a chance that the United States or Puerto Rico will be eliminated early, thus returning one of the two catchers
“I’ve already talked to the guys, the guys that we got in the offseason,” Lucroy said. “I talked to them about getting together early in spring training to talk things over and catch some bullpens so I will be ready.”
But until then, who’s the team’s third or even fourth catcher?
“Now don’t ask me that question,” Roenicke said, joking. “We don’t know.”
The five other catchers in big league camp – Dayton Buller, Anderson De La Rosa, Blake Lalli, Rafael Neda and Adam Weisenburger – have played a total of six games in the big leagues. All six were by the 29-year-old Lalli, who went 2 for 15 at the plate for the Cubs in 2012.
Though Roenicke doesn’t doubt all five can catch in spring training, he wants a guy who can actually step up and work with his staff.
“I’m not worried about physically, who can catch them,” Roenicke said. “But I want a guy who is going to be with us and working with these guys to get locked in, to talk about stuff between innings and what they need to work on. If a guy wants to work on his changeup at the beginning of spring training to get ready for the end, I want our catchers to know that.
“And we’re not going to have our two regular guys there, so it’s going to be difficult.”
But once the World Baseball Classic is over for the United States and Puerto Rico, the Brewers will be back to having strength behind the plate.
Lucroy, 26, hit .320 with 12 home runs and 59 RBI in just 96 games in 2012. For him, being named as one of three catchers to represent the United States was a tremendous honor and a sign of his progress since taking over as Milwaukee’s everyday catcher in 2010.
“It will be a great feeling,” Lucroy said. “You aren’t playing for yourself or your team. You are playing for your country. I think it’s pretty exciting to be a part of.”
Lucroy will be joined on Team USA by Ryan Braun, who joked last weekend that he didn’t know the United States brought along bullpen catchers.
“That’s what Braunie said,” Lucroy said. “I’m missing spring training so I can go be a bullpen catcher on Team USA.”
When Lucroy suffered a broken hand last season, Maldonado proved he was capable of being a big league catcher. The Brewers knew he could play defense at a high level, but Maldonado showed an ability to hit with a bit of pop.
Hitting just .198 for Triple-A Nashville at the time of his call-up, Maldonado batted .266 with eight home runs and 30 RBI in 78 games for the Brewers.
“We’re very fortunate to have two guys who both could be everyday catchers,” Brewers bench coach Jerry Narron said. “Lucroy last year was on track to make the All-Star team if he hadn’t got hurt, and Maldy did a great job when he got here.