Backup Catcher Position Takes On Added Scrutiny
With news out of Milwaukee Brewers spring training that catcher Jonathan Lucroy has broken his pinkie finger on his right, throwing hand, the position of backup catcher is under further scrutiny.
According to Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
An upset Lucroy didn’t want to talk about it until he saw specialist Don Sheridan. But manager Ron Roenicke admitted it was discouraging news.
“He was just doing a blocking drill and he got his hand in there too quick,” said Roenicke. “The only good news about it is that it’s early in camp.”
Coming into camp, it was one of the few positions on the 25-man roster that was up for grabs.
And now the Brewers must consider what their plan of attack is should Lucroy be out for a considerable amount of time. Certainly there’s no evidence that suggests Lucroy is going to be missing months instead of weeks, but the Brewers will certainly examine all the pros and cons for the time being.
Furthermore, they have to decide what type of catcher they want––offensive or defensive.
Prior to Lucroy’s injury, the players legitimately vying for the backup catcher job were George Kottaras, Wil Nieves and Mike Rivera. Offseason signee Shawn Riggans was thought to be a candidate, although he’s the only player not to report to Arizona due to a case of pneumonia. No timetable for his recovery or his arrival has been published.
The incumbent for the job is Kottaras who briefly was the starter for the Brewers last season in the wake of the season-ending injury to Gregg Zaun.
Other than providing a little bit of power with nine home runs last season, Kottaras provided little else offensively. Unfortunately for native Canadian, he batted only .203 with .305 on-base percentage.
His redeeming quality is that he’s still young and may be able to turn things around yet. He was a career .269 hitter in the minor leagues giving hope that he can do better than hovering around the Mendoza line.
His defense wasn’t much better in 2010 while allowing 19 wild pitches and throwing out only 15% of opposing base runners.
Brought in to provide competition this year is Nieves who signed a non-guaranteed contract in the offseason after spending the past couple years as a backup in the Washington Nationals organization.
Nieves has never been known for his offensive proficiency but has a reputation as an acceptable defender. On a defensively-challenged Brewers squad, that may give him a leg up on the competition.
Further complicating matters is that both Kottaras and Nieves are out of minor league options, and the Brewers risk losing either one of them should they not make the 25-man roster coming out of spring training.
That leaves Rivera, who Haudricourt reports has agreed to play in the minors if need be.
Kottaras and Nieves are out of minor-league options, but Rivera said he would go to Class AAA Nashville to stay ready if it came to that.
Rivera has the ability to put up good offensive numbers in limited opportunities, such as the 2009 season with the Brewers in which he batted .306 albeit in 69 plate appearances.
Whichever direction the Brewers decide to go, the position will now be under much scrutiny with Lucroy looking to be sidelined indefinitely.