Jonathan Lucroy might want to spend a little extra time learning the Brewers pitching staff this spring, because he just might be calling Miller Park home by the end of the summer. The 23-year-old backstop isn’t expected to take Milwaukee by storm-he doesn’t possess a Wieters-esque pedigree-but he does profile as a solid, everyday regular thanks to a discerning batting eye and strong defensive chops. A third-round pick in 2007 out of the University of Louisiana, Lafayette, he hit .267/.380/.418 in Double-A last year while throwing out 40 percent of runners with larcenous intent. Lucroy talked about his game, with an emphasis on the strides he has made on the defensive side of the ball, during the final week of the Arizona Fall League season.
David Laurila: Can you give a self-scouting report on yourself?
Jonathan Lucroy: I’d say that I have an average arm and a quick release. I work hard and hustle. I’m a contact hitter. Other than that, I don’t really know what to say. I don’t really like talking about myself all that much-my tools and stuff like that.
DL: You’ve thrown out better than 40 percent of runners trying to steal over the past two seasons. That’s pretty impressive.
JL: That’s something I’ve really tried to improve upon. When I came in, I was a good hitter, but my defense wasn’t where it should be and I’ve really focused on making it better, because it was the weakest part of my game. I went from throwing out whatever [percent] it was in rookie ball, when I got drafted, to throwing out 47 or 48 percent between Low-A and High-A last year. So, that’s really what I’ve been working on.
DL: With an “average arm,” how have you thrown out such a high percentage of runners?
JL: It’s been my technique. I’ve always had an average arm; I don’t have an unbelievable arm, but I get the ball there quickly. I get it there quickly because I have fast feet and quick hands. That’s what makes up for my lack of a cannon. I don’t have a bad arm-don’t get me wrong. I have a good arm, but I don’t have a hose. I don’t have a Pudge Rodriguez arm or anything. I’ve just got quick feet and quick hands, and I try to use them to my advantage. Charlie Greene, our catching coordinator-our catching rover-has really helped to get me to where I need to be.
DL: Pitch calling is obviously a big part of a catcher’s job. How do you approach that part of your game?
JL: Oh geez, I mean, a lot of that is due to prior experience and playing against guys. We’ve played against the guys [in Arizona] for a month and a half, so I’ve faced a lot of these hitters-I’ve caught against them-quite a bit. I played against a lot of them during the year, too, as did a lot of the other guys on my team, so we had general scouting reports on everybody just from that. It’s not like the big leagues where you have advance scouts going out and scouting all of the games, and charting and all of that stuff, before you play someone. It’s not like that. It just comes from what they did the last time you played them and that type of thing. I keep track of a lot of that stuff. I have a pretty good memory when it comes to what guys did against us and what we did to get them out.
DL: Do you go over that with the pitchers prior to the game?
JL: Not extensively. For the most part, they trust me to do it for them. Pitchers, for the most part, are guys that… they don’t like to think. They just like to go out there and throw, so I do their thinking for them. That’s just for the most part. You have some guys who know what they want to throw before they even get the ball back. But most guys let me take control and call the game for them.
DL: Can you talk about reading hitters?
JL: In general, scouting reports say that the last thing a hitter did is the next thing he’s going to do. I understand that, but if you throw a 95 mph fastball to a hitter and he fouls it off-he’s late on it and he fouls it off-why would you throw something slower to speed up his bat to the ball? You’re going to stay with the fastball until he proves that he can hit it. Until he shows that he can get on it, there’s no need to change. A slower pitch is going to speed a bat up, and a faster pitch is going to slow a bat down, especially if you’re late on it. That’s in general. And if a guy takes a really bad swing at a pitch, you want to throw that pitch again, because if he swung at it and you made him look bad, he’s probably going to look bad again-there’s a good chance of that. The best hitters are the guys who make the adjustments the quickest.
DL: What about hitters who play possum, intentionally looking bad on a certain pitch trying to set up the pitcher?
JL: Oh yeah, that’s for sure. I’ve seen that. We had a guy in Double-A who we’d got from the Rangers-a guy who had been up with the Rangers-and I saw him set up a catcher by saying something. The pitcher threw a fastball away and he asks the umpire, “Hey, was that a strike?” The umpire goes, “Yeah, it was right there.” So Frank goes-the hitter was Frank Catalanotto-“Dang, that looked like it was outside.” He got the catcher thinking, “Well, he didn’t like that, so I’m going to call it again.” He did, and Frank got a double down the left-field line. So it happens. I don’t see it much at this level, but I talked to him about it and he said they do it a lot in the big leagues. They try to set people up like that. The better hitters can do that.
DL: How important is it for a catcher to establish a good relationship with the home plate umpire?
JL: I don’t complain a lot, because you can’t change what the umpire is doing, anyway. It’s something you can’t really control, so I don’t complain. I’ll just ask him, “Hey, where did you have that pitch?” or “Did you have that here?” Maybe I’ll say, “Can you give me a little better look next time?” But I won’t be like, “Come on, man. Let’s go; you’re terrible.” I don’t say anything like that. I’m not a complainer, because that’s not going to get you anywhere. What it’s probably going to get you is fewer strikes called.
DL: What about your relationship with the pitchers on the staff? Are you a take-charge guy?
JL: It depends on the guy. I’ve had guys who love it when I go out there and get on their butt; they love it when I go out there and get into it with them and kind of jack them up. I’ve also had guys where you’ve got to pet them. You have to massage them. You have to go, “Hey buddy, you’re OK. You’re going to be all right.” There are a lot of different personalities, so you have to watch and pay attention. You don’t want to go out there and jack up a guy who is kind of a softy. I’ll be honest with you-there are some pitchers who can’t take being yelled at like that. You have to know who you can do that to. You have to know who can handle it.
DL: Have you gotten to know many of the guys on the big-league staff? You may be seeing a lot of them this coming season.
JL: I know some of them, because a couple of guys I played with went up to the big leagues at the end of the year. Josh Butler was up there, as was John Axford. Last year in spring training, I was one of the young guys and just there to catch bullpens, so I didn’t really get to know the pitchers too much, but this year in spring training my goal is to really get to know guys. I plan to really network and get a feel for them. I’ll also ask the catchers about what guy’s best pitches are, and also what kind of guys they are. [Jason] Kendall isn’t there anymore, but I’ll ask Mike Rivera, who was the backup last year. I’ll ask him, “What kind of guy is this; what kind of guy is that?” I’ll try to get a feel for the personalities so that I know how to handle them. You have to know your pitching staff.