Originally posted on Fox Sports Arizona  |  Last updated 3/19/12
There's very little in the game of baseball that scares Milwaukee Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy. He can handle a hard foul ball off his mask. He can duck out of the way of an up-and-in fastball. And he can certainly stand his ground as a base runner comes charging toward home plate. There is one thing, however, the 25-year-old backstop wants nothing to do with: complacency. "You don't ever want to be content just sitting there saying 'Oh, I'm good enough,'" Lucroy said. "You never want to be good enough. You want to go out and do the best you possibly can and keep working hard to get better." With such passion for improvement and a full season of lessons now under his belt, Lucroy is poised to take another step into the next tier of big league catchers. If nothing else, he will benefit from a full spring training to prepare for the grind of a 162-game schedule. After breaking his right pinkie finger in the first week of camp last season, Lucroy missed all of spring training and opened the season on the disabled list. "My spring training last year consisted of the first month of the season," Lucroy said. "In order to compete at the big league level all year, you need this month and a half to get your mind right and get your body right." Lucroy's Cactus League experience this year has been much different: He's healthy and hitting the cover off the ball. Lucroy has collected at least one hit in each spring game he's played and entered the week with a .565 on-base percentage, though he is keeping the early success in perspective. "I'm just trying to have good at-bats and hit the ball hard somewhere," Lucroy said. "Keep in mind this stuff doesn't count. You're just trying to get yourself ready for the season." Said Brewers manger Ron Roenicke: "He's really swinging the bat well, and we saw this in stretches last year." A full spring to find his groove is only the start. There are several reasons Lucroy is positioned for a breakthrough year after a strong sophomore campaign saw him hit .265 with 12 home runs, 59 RBIs and a .313 OBP during Milwaukee's run to an NL Central championship. Chief among those is the simple fact he now has a complete major league season to his name. Lucroy was called up to Milwaukee out of need in 2010 when starter Gregg Zaun got hurt. With less than a month of Triple-A experience, Lucroy suddenly found himself a starter in the majors, adjusting on the fly through 75 games that season. Things slowed down a bit in 2011, and he had the chance to learn some important lessons while also getting postseason experience. "Experience is one of the biggest things people learn from," Lucroy said. "I learned a lot last year, and I've still got a lot to learn now, but it still feels good to have that experience under my belt." One of the big lessons Lucroy learned was just what he has to do to play at a high level over the course of a long season. He had an impressive first half, finishing fourth in All-Star voting among NL catchers, but his numbers at the plate took a dip in the second half. He ended up hitting just .188 in the final month of the season, and Roenicke said Lucroy wasn't happy with the swoon. Roenicke is certainly a big believer that Lucroy will soon be regarded among baseball's best catchers. Lucroy's constant need to improve somewhere is a big part of that, but so is the fact that he just believes he can. "I think he is, especially mentally, in the mindset that he's going to get better," Roenicke said. "He thinks he should hit better, he thinks he should catch better, and I think he does have more upside." Lucroy's greatest asset might be his youth. With already more than 200 games under his belt at just 25 years old, Lucroy has plenty of time to keep improving. But even so, he's already made a lasting impression on a Brewers pitching staff full of personalities like enigmatic ace Zack Greinke and fiery reliever Francisco Rodriguez. "He prides himself in everything he does," closer John Axford said. "Dealing with all the different personalities that he has to, dealing with all the different repertoires and dealing with all the guys in the bullpen is a difficult job. Jonathan has always shown that he's up for task and that he wants to keep improving on it." Axford pointed out that players in Milwaukee might sometimes be overlooked because the market is so small. That might be the case with Lucroy, Axford said, but this year ought to be different. With the exposure of a deep playoff run and an opportunity to help make up for the offense and leadership lost with Prince Fielder's departure in free agency, people should start to take notice. "I think this year he'll stand out better than he has in the past, especially after the exposure we had in the playoffs," Axford said. "He's always working harder, trying to get better." If Lucroy improves as much in his third season as he did in his second, his name might soon be mentioned in the same breath with the likes of Brian McCann, Yadier Molina and Russell Martin, but he's the last person who will spend any time worrying about his star profile. It's not among his concerns. He's more focused on doing his part to help the Brewers reach the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1982, and he couldn't be in a better position to do so. "It takes a while to learn this game, and you're never going to learn everything about it, but every year you play you learn something new," Lucroy said. "I feel a lot more confident this year just having that experience that I didn't have last year."
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