Brewers expect Lucroy to take next step

MILWAUKEE – The Brewers got back to work Monday as spring training opened at Maryvale Baseball Park.

With the starting rotation, back end of the bullpen and most of the lineup set, the team is looking to build on the success of last season, which included a franchise-record 96 victories and came one game short of a trip to the World Series.

“Last year, we were one game (away) and honestly I don’t see why we can’t get to at least that point again,” said catcher Jonathan Lucroy. “We’re going to do our best to get there and do our best to battle to that point, and I’ll tell ya, I think we’re very capable of doing that.”

With Prince Fielder now playing for the Detroit Tigers, the Brewers will have their work cut out for them if they want to repeat as NL Central champions. His team-leading 38 home runs and 120 RBI were a big reason Milwaukee advanced to the NLCS, where the eventual world-champion Cardinals emerged in six games.

The Brewers are expecting Lucroy to take another step forward in his development. The pitching staff was very pleased with the progress he’s made as a defensive catcher with just under two major league seasons under his belt.

This year, Lucroy, is looking to become better offensively. He hit .265 with 12 home runs and 59 RBI and in 211 major league games, he’s a .260 hitter with 16 home runs and 85 RBI. Lucroy has always considered himself to be a solid offensive player and his minor league numbers (.298/35/202 in five seasons) back up that belief.

Now, it’s a matter of producing at the big league level.

“I’m definitely not where I want to be, I think I’m capable of a lot more, and that’s one of the things I’m trying to focus on this year, as well as being a good defensive player, too,” Lucroy said. “Basically, I’m trying to be a well-rounded player, and that’s what I’m going to do, and I’m going to work hard on both sides.”

Getting into shape: Manager Ron Roenicke said he was pleased with the condition of his players, most of whom have already arrived at camp, even though the first full squad workout isn’t scheduled until later this week.

For the first few days of workouts, the focus will be on getting back into baseball shape.

“Getting their legs in shape is always, the arms are usually going to be there, but it’s always a concern with the legs,” Roenicke said. “Coming out here, no matter what you do before camp, you’re always going to have soreness and it’s just from being on their cleats for that long, doing drills, fielding bunts, covering first base, all that is to get their legs in shape and get used to the activities, the baseball activities again.”

All eyes on Ax: In his first full season as closer, John Axford was nothing short of amazing.

He finished tied for the National League lead with 46 saves, a new franchise reord, and converted his last 43 save opportunities. In his final 30 appearances, Axford had a 0.59 ERA and threw 10 scoreless innings to finish the season.

The question moving forward is can he do it again?

“I don’t think it’s fair to say he needs to do the same thing, but his stuff is electric, really, he’s got a tremendous fastball with life on it that he commands well, and he’s got a punchout slider and punchout curveball,” Roenicke said. “So the combination of those three things, if he’s throwing strikes, when he’s out there I expect him to close every game he’s out there, that’s’ what I expect. Is it fair to say he’s going to do it all the time? No, but I expect him to.

“If his stuff is good enough, if his command is good enough, I think his makeup is good for that role is really good. Even though it might be different than other relievers and closers, I really like his make-up for the role.”