The Boston Red Sox are reportedly signing catcher Jonathan Lucroy to provide depth at the position and potentially claim a backup role.
The 33-year-old is a two-time All-Star, although he hasn’t performed at that level since 2016. Lucroy’s power has fallen off a cliff while his batting average has gradually dwindled. He hit a career-low .232 with a .660 OPS in 293 at-bats split between the Los Angeles Angels and Chicago Cubs last year.
His defense has also slipped behind the plate. Lucroy was once an excellent defensive catcher known for his pitch framing ability. He owns a career 40 defensive runs saved at the position but has -40 DRS over the last three years.
While Lucroy’s skills have clearly eroded, there are reasons to believe he hasn’t quite hit his expiration date yet. He underwent disc replacement surgery this offseason to repair a neck injury that has bothered him for the last couple of years. He claims to be feeling much better now and improved health can only help him at the plate and behind it.
His production has diminished but his plate discipline remains intact. Lucroy doesn’t strike out much, posting a 15.5 K% last season that is only slightly above his career rate (14.9 K%). He still draws walks at an approximately league-average rate of 8.2 BB%, per Baseball Savant.
Lucroy saw his Hard Hit Percentage fall into the bottom 10 percent of the league from 2017-2018 but he rebounded to a respectable 32.5% last season while seeing in uptick in exit velocity to a nearly average 87 mph.
The improving Statcast data combined with solid plate discipline suggests he’s better than his underwhelming numbers from last season.
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Lucroy spent the first seven years of his career with the Milwaukee Brewers and for the majority of that time was managed by current Red Sox interim manager Ron Roenicke. It’s probably no coincidence that Lucroy was scooped up by a team managed by someone who knew him from his glory days.
Christian Vazquez is the undisputed starting catcher coming off a breakout campaign. He’ll be backed up by Kevin Plawecki who was signed to a one-year deal to replace Sandy Leon. Plawecki is solid enough defensively to be a serviceable backup catcher but the career .218 hitter is a liability to the lineup.
Those two represent the only catchers on the Red Sox 40-man roster. Juan Centeno and Jett Bandy are the only other catchers with major league experience that the team invited to camp this spring. Connor Wong is the top catching prospect in the organization but he’s never played above Double-A and could be years away from reaching his ceiling as a backup in the big leagues.
There isn’t much depth at the position and the upside is even more limited. Lucroy may be a shell of his former self but his track record shows he has the most upside of the backup candidates. There is virtually no risk in a minor league deal. Lucroy provides an upgrade over Plawecki if he returns to the form he showed prior to the neck injury. If he appears to be washed up in camp, Boston can cut ties or keep him stashed in Pawtucket for depth purposes.