If Jonathan Lucroy never played for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, he may have never been the Colorado Rockies starting catcher. One of Lucroy’s USA teammates put in a good word for the two-time all-star.
"“The biggest reason I think I’m here is that Nolan [Arenado] wanted me here from what I understand,” Lucroy said. “Whenever a guy of that talent wants you to come and contribute to what this team is trying to do, that’s a big deal. To me especially. I take that very seriously.”"
"“I have all the respect in the world for Nolan and the way he plays. That dude cares. You don’t find a lot of guys of that talent level, that ability, that focus, and that drive. When a guy of that stature and what he has done wants you to be a part of this, it is a very special thing for me. I’m grateful.”"
Having experience already playing with Arenado, Pat Neshek and Jake McGee have helped with the transition for the Rockies new catcher. But Lucroy has been here before. Before the trade deadline in 2016, Lucroy went from the struggling Brewers to the contending Texas Rangers. Moving from the Rangers to the Rockies this year was a similar experience. This move to Denver has gave Lucroy extra motivation.
"“It’s an injection of energy into your system,” Lucroy said of moving to a competing team. “With this team, I feel like I’ve come here and hijacked a little bit. I came in here and jumped on a good team and I feel kind of selfish. It felt good last year with the Rangers. Feels good with the Rockies. It’s human nature, we all want to be wanted and appreciated. We want to be used for purposes greater than ourselves. Whenever we as players get our names called in this kind of manner, it feels good.”"
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While Arenado got his catcher, nobody will benefit more from the acquisition of Lucroy than the young Rockies pitching staff. While Tony Wolters and Ryan Hannigan have been holding down the fort, it is hard to compete with the experience Lucroy has.
He caught Trevor Hoffman’s 600 save, Francisco Rodriguez’s 300 save, Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw in the All-Star game. But Lucroy says of all his experiences, Hamels is the most talented pitcher he has ever caught. No matter who is throwing though, Lucroy sees a similarity between all of the great pitchers h has caught.
"“I’ve caught a lot of great pitchers and I’ve caught a lot of bad pitchers. But the best ones, all they were worried about was pitch execution. Simplyfing things by using their strengths. I’m trying to do my best to apply it to these guys here by using the examples I’ve been fortunate to witness myself,” he said."
Jon Gray was on the receiving end of that philosophy and experience after he went seven strong giving up one run against the Philadelphia Phillies, pitching in his first time to Lucroy. Gray said that Lucroy makes him very confident on every pitch.
"“He’s a really intense guy and gets you fired up every pitch,” Gray said. “He has a great target, especially when we were moving fastballs in and away. He gave a great low target. When we were up, he showed me exactly where I needed to go. He was telling me, ‘See how many times you can hit my glove. Forget about mechanics.'”"
In just a week, Lucroy’s mentality is already ingrained in this team’s young pitchers. The strategy may be easier to adopt because it all revolves around simplicity.
"“My goal with these young guys is to trust their stuff and stay within themselves,” Lucroy said. “Simplify their thoughts. Execute and hit my spots. We’ve all been playing since we were kids. Our bodies know what to do. Our brains get in the way. I’m guilty of that with my hitting.”"
Even with limited experience seeing Lucroy, manager Bud Black already sees a catcher who is engaging with wanting to get to know his new teammates. Mechanically, Black thinks he brings a lot to his young staff.
"“I think he gives a great target and presentation behind the plate,” Black said. “His ability to block makes pitchers feel comfortable throwing low breaking balls with runners on base. They’re not afraid to bounce a slider or a curve in critical moments. That trust is there with Jon.”"
That trust was there for Pat Neshek when he faced his former Phillies teammates in the rain no less. His experience with Lucroy on Team USA didn’t hurt that familiarity either.
"“[He] kind of knows your demeanor out there. It helps a lot. It usually takes an outing or two to get cack into sync. But we were right on [against the Phillies.] Last year when he was in Texas, I was in Houston and they kicked our butts last year. He brings that to the table of being one of the best catchers. I think he was one of the best framers last year. You just have a lot of respect for the guy and it makes you want to work a little bit harder.”"
No matter if he’s dealing with pitchers like Neshek who have vast experience or Gray who is just in his sophomore season, Lucroy has something to benefit every type of pitcher. Lucroy said he sees many similarities between the 2016 Rangers team that made the playoffs and these Rockies, especially with Colorado’s potent lineup. If this young staff can execute on their catcher’s motto of simplicity, there’s the potential to complete the other half of the puzzle.