11.19.2009

The Catcher of the Future, Today!

Sorry George Kottaras, I'm not talking about you. The Hot Topic in the early part of the Brewers offseason is the question of who starts at catcher in 2010. Do you attempt to bring back Jason Kendall at a discounted rate? Do you sign another veteran stopgap to fill the hole until 2011 when top prospect Jonathan Lucroy has played a year in Triple A? Do you call up Angel Salome and throw him to the wolves? Or do you bring up Lucroy now and let him run with it?

It's simple, you bring up Lucroy now. The crop of free agent catching this off season is paltry, names like Rod Barajas and Miguel Olivo don't instill excitement in the fan base. Take Olivo for instance, a player who walked 19 times in 112 games doesn't seem to fit what Milwaukee is trying to accomplish offensively.

So let's say the team does re-sign Kendall. He needs to play less, and will he be willing to do that? Not likely. A reasonable stat-line for Kendall next year would be 125 games, a .236/.325 average/OBP, two home runs and 35-40 driven in. What is that really worth to you? Anything more than $2 million a year is too much to pay for what he could bring to the table.

What about the idea that Kendall could move to a backup role for a rookie like Salome or Lucroy? That won't work, it's doubtful that Kendall would be willing to sign with a team as anything other than a starter. That said, he'll be 36 before the end of next season and it's not likely that many teams will be interested in a 36 year old catcher who wants to play 140 games and will only hit .240.

What about Angel Salome? Why isn't he being considered for a jump from Nashville? After all he did hit .286 with 44 RBI's for the club's Triple A affiliate last year. So why not?

Well, defense, for one. Lucroy had seven errors in 125 games last season and as a college draftee he's considerably more polished behind the dish. In fact those seven errors were the most he's had in a professional season.

Salome, on the other hand, is very much a work in progress defensively. Last season he committed 10 errors in just 82 games. Add in previous seasons where he's had 15 errors and 13 errors (in 66 games) and red flags are raised with his glove work.

Angel Salome has also struggled with injuries and suspension in the minors. His 2009, 2007 and 2005 season were all disrupted with injuries and a steroid suspension. There are just so many question marks involved with Salome that his future as a big leaguer is an uphill battle.

Comparatively, Salome is also a free swinger. He struck out 55 times while walking 22 last year. Conversely, Lucroy walked 78 times against 66 strikeouts. In a lineup that will feature the strike zones of Alcides Escobar and Carlos Gomez, having a young player that will work the count would be a good move.

Lucroy has a good approach to the plate, he's flashed decent power in the minors and hit for pretty good average at every level he's played. The organization is very high on him and with good reason.

Finally, let's face facts. No matter what moves the team makes in this off season they will be better in 2011 than in 2010. Escobar will have played out a full season, Yovanni Gallardo, Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun will each be a season better. Ideally Manny Parra and Carlos Gomez will each be improved. So why not bring Lucroy up next year and let him take his lumps in 2010?

Rookies will be up and down, it's the way of sports. So if Lucroy can get any "rookie mistakes" out of the way next season, let him do it. Then he will be a year better in 2011 when the team looks to be better anyways.

This isn't an unprecedented move, a catcher jumping from Double A to the majors. Brewers GM Doug Melvin pointed out that Russel Martin, Kurt Suzuki, Pudge Rodriguez and Jason Kendall are all players who made that leap and succeeded in the big show. It's a move that makes sense from a lot of different view points, and one that the Crew should make in the coming weeks.

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