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Former Baseball: Lucroy emerges as Brewers’ new leader

Written by Genero C. Armas, USA Today, Feb. 27, 2014

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers-Workout
Milwaukee Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy (20), a former standout catcher at UL, warms up during camp at Maryvale Baseball Park. / Rick Scuteri/USA TODAY Sports

PHOENIX — The Milwaukee Brewers love the players they have up the middle. Carlos Gomez is a Gold Glove center fielder, and speedy shortstop Jean Segura is one of the majors’ best young players.

Then there’s catcher Jonathan Lucroy, who has quietly developed into an important cornerstone behind the plate.

Good bat, especially for a catcher. Solid receiver. Emerging leader.

Lucroy is “a different type of guy. He cares about what goes on with this team as much as anybody does,” manager Ron Roenicke said. “I’m not saying the other guys don’t care, but (Lucroy) is to the point where he tries to help other players, he works with them.”

Lucroy was one of the majors’ top offensive catchers last season, batting .280 with 18 homers and 82 RBIs. He also had six triples and nine steals, very respectable speed numbers for a catcher.

Speed isn’t something that Lucroy specifically worked on last year, though the 27-year-old catcher said he’s always worked out with “running guys” and has trained in the past with NFL players.

“Also, too, it comes with running the bases the right way. You don’t have to be the fastest guy to be a good base runner,” Lucroy said Tuesday.

Behind the plate, the 6-foot, 195-pound Lucroy makes the most of a frame that’s relatively small for a catcher.

“With that low target he sets up, it’s kind of unique with big league catchers. He gets down there low,” said 6-foot-5 closer Jim Henderson.

“But it’s strange. You would think if you miss your spot as a pitcher with that small target you might not get the call,” Henderson said. “But somehow he makes it work within the parameters of the plate there, so it’s actually amazing how well he does if we screw up.”

What Lucroy would like to improve on is throwing out runners.

He threw out 21 of 101 potential base stealers for a 20.8 percent success rate, ranking 18th among regular catchers in the majors. Lucroy said he was more successful in the past, but had fallen into “some bad habits” the last few years that he hoped to fix.

The Brewers are confident in Lucroy’s abilities. General manager Doug Melvin often singles him out as one of the top catchers in the game.

No added pressure, Lucroy said.

“You know honestly, I take a lot of pride and a lot of responsibility in being a leader on and off the field, and within the clubhouse,” he said. “Hopefully I can do that this year and really contribute.”

Lucroy emerged as more of a public presence during last season’s turmoil surrounding the suspension of star slugger Ryan Braun for violating Major League Baseball’s anti-drug agreement. He’s inquisitive with Roenicke. He’s an easygoing presence in the clubhouse.

The best catchers must be unselfish, Roenicke said.

“They’ve got a whole pitching staff to be worried about and (Lucroy) worries about the pitching staff,” Roenicke said. “He worries about the whole team.”

NOTES: Roenicke said he felt good about the new rules on instant replay and collisions at home plate. “Really, it’s not a whole lot different from what we’ve been doing,” he said. Lucroy hoped to get the rules clarified before games began. “We can practice it, I just want to make sure what we can and can’t do,” he said. … Gomez and non-roster invitee Mitch Haniger homered during a three-inning intra-squad game Tuesday. … LH reliever Wei-Chung Wang, a Rule 5 selection, pitched a scoreless inning. He walked Rickie Weeks and Lyle Overbay, and struck out Braun and Martin Maldonado. … RH starters Marco Estrada and Wily Peralta are among the pitchers the Brewers plan to use for their spring training opener Thursday against the Athletics.