If there is any area where the depth is lacking in the Indians system, it’s definitely in the catching department. Luckily, the Indians have been blessed to have two outstanding catchers in Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez. While there is little to no young talent in Columbus, Akron has a pair of two very interesting catchers at their disposal. One of those guys that’s been standing out this season is Jeremy Lucas.
Lucas, 25, was drafted by the Tribe in the 12th round of the 2012 draft. He went to Indiana State University out of high school. He made his debut in 2012 with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers. In 29 games, Lucas hit .250/.364/.386 with two home runs, six doubles, eight RBI and struck out 14 times against 16 walks. He’s been well known as a good on-base kind of guy, and he certainly kept that up through most of the minors.
The 2013 season was more of a rollercoaster season for Lucas, as he bounced between both Low-A Lake County and Double-A Akron. He spent most of his season in Lake County, where he played in 75 games. During that time, he hit .274/.383/.433 and hit six home runs, 18 doubles, and three triples while driving in 35 RBI. His plate discipline continued to stay strong as well. He walked 44 times and only struck out 50 times. It’s pretty rare to have almost an even ratio of walks and strikeouts, but Lucas was able to do it in back-to-back seasons.
At the age of 23, Lucas started his 2014 season with High-A Carolina. The Indians didn’t make Lucas a priority catcher at the time. In Double-A Akron at the time, Tony Wolters was made the primary catcher for that team. He was due to be the next big catcher for the Indians, but he struggled in 2014 and 2015 until he was inevitably DFA’d by the Tribe in the spring of 2016. During his time in Carolina, Lucas appeared in 101 games. In that span, he hit .267/.363/.442 with a career high 12 home runs, 24 doubles, and three triples. He also drove in 58 RBI.
At the plate, his strong plate discipline continued. He struck out 69 times and walked 52. The narrative of Lucas continued, but a new chapter was developing as his offense became stronger over the more he moved through the system.
In the offseason between ’14 and ’15, Lucas had hip surgery, which sent his normal offseason workout into some sort of tailspin. He had hopes of being ready at the start of the season, and he was able to achieve this, but at what cost?
The 2015 season was the first step in Lucas’ career where he really began to struggle at the plate. While he spent a lot of time between riding the bench, appearing at first base, and playing backup catcher, Lucas tried his best to put up as strong of a season as he could. Wolters was still the primary catcher, and Jake Lowery was also with the team at the time. It was difficult to make time for all three guys to find some time to play. Even in part time play, Lucas made his way into 68 games, where he hit .239/.306/.311 which included two home runs, eleven doubles, and 22 RBI. He struck out 41 times and walked 23. Lucas still seemed to be affected by his offseason surgery, and it wasn’t until about midseason that he started to turn things around.
In the first half of 2015, Lucas struggled mightily at the plate. He only hit .232/.292/.293. His on-base percentage was most indicative of his struggles. For a guy who gets most of his value from his ability to get on base, when he loses that ability, he becomes a lot less useful to a team. After spending some time on the disabled list, Lucas only played in 12 games in the second half of the season. In that span, Lucas hit .275/.370/.400 and it seemed like he finally was back to normal.
Going into 2016, he was looking to finally have a healthy offseason where he wouldn’t have to worry recovery from surgery, or having any lingering pain. After the Wolters loss, Lucas was brought to the big league camp to take his place for the catchers. He participated in the club-wide endurance test. This test is basically an exercise where each player keeps on doing sprints until only one man is left at the end. In 2015, the winner was Francisco Lindor, but in 2016, Jeremy Lucas was the big winner. This speaks highly of the amount of work that Lucas has put into preparing for this season, and was indicative of what he had to look forward to in this upcoming season.
“I feel good man,” Lucas said. “I have aches and pains here and there, but as long as my play is not getting hindered that’s all I care about. I’m just trying to prep myself every day to be out there if they need me.”
Through 24 games so far this season, Lucas has been swinging a hot bat in Double-A Akron. He’s hit .250/.376/.464 with five home runs, three doubles, and has driven in 18 runs. He’s also only struck out 17 times to his 15 walks. His offensive profile is starting to come back to him, which is extremely important for Lucas. He’s a decently good defensive catcher, but his big ticket value comes from his plate discipline and offense.
He’s also been very good so far in the clutch this year. With runners in scoring position, Lucas has hit .259/.412/.481 with two home runs and only six of his strikeouts.
“Really proud of him for the way he’s worked, how he’s got himself ready to play,” shared Akron manager Dave Wallace on his catcher Lucas. “I think he’s really settled into a pregame routine that gets him warm and gets his hips loose. We knew he could hit. Even through his struggles last year we knew that he’s an offensive threat, and we’re starting to see it.”
Catcher is a position that you don’t always expect a lot of offense from. At best, you’re lucky to get a guy that can play solid defense, and be worth maybe 1 WAR at best. Guys like Buster Posey, and the 2014 version of Gomes have been the few more recent exceptions to that. For Lucas, he could be one of the better catchers in the league if he continues to trend as he has. With his ability to get on base, he can hit almost anywhere in the lineup and either lengthen the lineup more, or place him higher in the lineup to allow the guy behind him to drive him in (almost Carlos Santana like, if you will).
As of right now, I’d say that Lucas could be almost a perfect backup catcher for a big league club. At 25 years old, he’s too old to be in Double-A, but he could be moved up to Triple-A Columbus any time now. From there, it’s just a matter of when he’ll get his shot at the MLB level.
Regardless, Lucas has been extremely impressive to start off this season. The hopes are that he can continue to trend in a positive direction for the remainder of the season.
“I’m happy for him,” said Wallace, “and expect it to continue because of the way he approaches the game.”
Photo: David Monseur/MiLB.com