By Nathan Petrashek
Jonathan Lucroy showed such promise in 2011 that the Brewers extended him for five years last spring, buying out his arbitration seasons and securing a club option for 2017. Lucroy rewarded the team’s faith with the hottest start of his career, hitting a ridiculous .345/.387/.583 through the first two months. That torrid pace would be put on hold in late May, as a freak accident cost Lucroy nearly the next two months. When he returned at the end of July, though, Lucroy showed no ill effects from the hand injury, hitting .299/.354/.458 the rest of the way.
All told, Lucroy ended the year with an incredible .320/.368/.513 triple slash line, well in excess of our projected .274/.328/.382. Needless to say, there’s reason for caution. Because Lucroy collected just over half a season’s worth of plate attempts, the usual small sample size alert applies. But more importantly, Lucroy’s power and hit tools shouldn’t be mistaken for Buster Posey’s. Lucroy’s .193 ISO exceeds his historical power indices, and even if he is developing a bit of a power stroke, 15 dingers over the course of a full season is probably as good as it will get. In addition, Lucroy’s average was supported by a likely unsustainable .338 BABIP. His more aggressive approach at the plate (and increased contact) might explain a bit of that, but an average in the .280s is probably more realistic.
While Lucroy’s hand injury derailed an otherwise banner year, it did give the Brewers an opportunity to look at the 26-year-old Martin Maldonado. Historically, Maldonado has been a bit of a liability with the bat, and that trend continued as Maldonado hit just .198/.270/.347 to start the year in AAA. But thrust into major league service thanks to Lucroy’s injury, Maldonado went on to slug a serviceable .408 on 8 home runs, though his batting average (.266) and on-base percentage (.321) were just league-average.
Though Maldonado isn’t going to wow anyone with his hit tool, the same is not true of his defense. Maldonado, like Lucroy, is excellent at framing pitches. He also threw out just under 50% of would-be base stealers last year. If last year’s offensive showing is a sign of true development, Maldonado could eventually be a tantalizing trade piece with Lucroy locked up long-term.
Defensively, Lucroy is the first to admit he doesn’t have the strongest arm, and it shows. Opposing runners took full advantage of that weakness, as Lucroy managed to throw out less than 30%. However, Lucroy is one of the best in the league at pitch-framing, and he’s often able to snag wild pitches that others would miss. Overall, Lucroy is a serviceable defender, but he’ll need to control the running game much better in 2013.
With heavy turnover the past few years at most of the infield positions, it must be nice for the Brewers to have two reliable options in Lucroy and Maldonado. There isn’t any starter controversy here; as long as Lucroy is healthy, he’ll get the lion’s share of starts. But Maldonado will see plenty of time at backstop, probably starting close to once every fifth day.
And don’t be surprised to see both Lucroy and Maldonado on the field together early in the season. Maldonado is expected to fill in occasionally at first base until Corey Hart returns in mid-May.