The 10 Brewers Critical to 2011 Success: Number 8, Jonathan Lucroy

In the time leading up to the start of spring training, I’ve decided to make a countdown of the 10 Brewers that I believe are most critical to their success in the 2011 season. It continues today with number 8.

The catcher is a rather important player. He calls the pitches during games. He keeps pitchers calm when things get serious. The Brewers have decided to take a bit of a leap of faith with their catcher. Yes, Jonathan Lucroy was the regular starter for a good deal of last season, starting 74 games after Gregg Zaun went down with an injury. Even so, Lucroy won’t be 25 until June, and he has only played in 96 games above double A.

The Brewers also don’t really have a clear backup catcher, despite bringing in several free agents in the offseason. Unfortunately, not much can be expected out of Mike Rivera, who only played 17 games last year, Wil Nieves, a 33 year old who hit .203 last year, or Martin Maldonado, who has never had a major league at bat. George Kottaras showed some pop but played horrible defense as Milwaukee’s backup last year, and there is no guarantee that he will be back.

As far as Lucroy, he performed pretty well in 2010, considering he essentially made the jump from Hunstville (he played 21 games at AAA Nashville). He hit .253/.300/.329, and hit four home runs and had 26 RBIs. He struck out 44 times, and walked 18, so he could afford to be a little more patient, but he is at least making contact.

Lucroy won’t be mistaken for Yadier Molina in the field, but he isn’t George Kottaras, either. Lucroy threw out 31 percent of potential base-stealers last year, which is in the top half of the league. He was effective in the minors at throwing out base runners as well, and by all accounts he calls a pretty good game. Like I said, he isn’t outstanding, but he gets the job done.

So what makes him number 8 on the countdown? His position. His offensive numbers aren’t going to be huge, although it certainly seems like Lucroy, at least down the line, could be an above average major league hitter. He’ll probably hit sixth or seventh in the batting order, so it is possible that he could rack up a fairly sizable number of RBIs behind the Brewers potent one-through-five hitters. Bill James projects a rather modest 6 home runs and 40 RBIs, although I expect those numbers to be more like 12 and 60. Lucroy’s most important task, however, will be pleasing his pitchers and calling good games. Last year, Randy Wolf didn’t appear to be on the same page with Lucroy, and Kottaras caught Wolf’s games for most of the year. Hopefully, Lucroy develops a good relationship with newcomers Greinke and Marcum, and if he can do that, bat well enough that he won’t be hurting the offense, and continue to throw out 30 percent of baserunners, he will earn the number 8 position in this countdown.

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