Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers – #12 Martin Maldonado

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So we’re down to a dozen days. Only 12 more to go until the Brewers and Rockies square off at Miller Park with Yovani Gallardo and Jhoulys Chacin starting for their respective clubs.

Behind the dish that day for the Brewers will be Jonathan Lucroy, but we already profiled him eight days ago. Today we’re going to look at Lucroy’s colleague, whose World Baseball Classic team advance to the championship game which was just played on Tuesday night in San Francisco. He wore number 24 with Team Puerto Rico and wears number 12 for the Milwaukee Brewers. He is…

Maldonado

Martin Maldonado.

Martin Maldonado is a native of Puerto Rico, having  been born in Naguabo in 1986. He was drafted back in 2004 out of high school by the Anaheim Angels in the 27th round of the First-Year Player Draft. The Brewers acquired Maldonado as a free agent in January of 2007 after the Angels released him.

He joined the Brewers farm system and began the 2007 season with the Class-A West Virginia Power. He played for two affiliates in 2008, three of them in 2009, three again in 2010, two in 2011 and just one (Class-AAA Nashville) in 2012 before getting recalled.

Now 26, Maldonado finally got recalled and received a legitimate big league opportunity in the same way that many players do: by way of injury. Lucroy was injured in an off-field accident and when Maldonado was recalled, George Kottaras had just injured him hamstring in a game. Kottaras caught one more game as Maldonado was arriving but then missed several to rest his leg. Maldonado basically assumed the starting role in Lucroy’s absence and would only relinquish it once the incumbent was healthy enough to play.

Never known for his bat, Maldonado’s calling card as a minor-leaguer was his receiving, throwing, and ability to handle a pitching staff. Those were all of the attributes which led to the Brewers carrying Maldonado on their 40-man roster. His career minor league batting slash stats are .236/.313/.333 over parts of nine seasons. What’s more, in 2012 before being summoned, Maldonado was hitting just .198/.270/.347 through 138 plate appearances across 35 games. That being said, Maldonado did appear to break through in 2011 on offense (.287/.373/.436 combined with .321/.410/.537 at Nashville) and seemingly every member of Nashville’s starting lineup got off to slow starts at the plate in 2012.

None of those numbers at the plate are indicative of any of his work behind it though. Maldonado has a cannon for an arm, routinely throwing frozen ropes around the diamond as he’s is catching would-be base-stealers in the act. Maldonado’s career caught stealing percentage in the minors is 42%. He was even over 52% at two stops along the way and was caught at least 40% in six of his nine MiLB campaigns. The three misses were his first two professional years and 2012 (where he was still at 33%) before his call up. He calls a quality game, knows his pitchers and works well with them.

With the Brewers last year, Maldonado hit .266/.321/.408 with nine doubles, eight home runs, and 30 RBI in 233 AB. He also posted a 32% caught stealing percentage. Some of that down tick was due to Brewers pitchers, and some was due to superior baserunning at the MLB level. Still, his throws all season were accurate.

So far in 2013, Maldonado has only 13 plate appearances with the Brewers. He recorded one hit and struck out five times before joining up with Team Puerto Rico where he has played sparingly after beginning the tournament 0-for-9 with seven strikeouts and just two walks. He started at first base a couple of times with Puerto Rico and once at catcher behind Yadier Molina.

Now that the World Baseball Classic has ended, Maldonado returns to camp as the entrenched number two catcher, though Blake Lalli — who started and played the most while both Maldonado and Lucroy were away — has turned many heads and is under consideration for a bench spot. You just know Ron Roenicke would love to have a third guy on his main roster who can catch (as well as play some first base) to allow him to tinker late and pinch-hit whoever isn’t starting earlier in games then he otherwise might feel comfortable doing.

For Maldonado individually though, getting off to a slow start at the plate won’t spell doom for him. Hopefully he comes back from San Francisco, gets some actual work at the plate to find his timing and produces from the jump in the regular season. Again, though, having Lucroy as the starting catcher provides more consistent offense from the position even if Maldonado takes a little while to find it again with his bat.

Regardless, a tandem featuring Lucroy and Maldonado will be a strength for the Brewers in 2013…now that they’ll finally both be back in camp anyway.

Maldonado makes his pitchers comfortable, and that makes for a happy manager, pitching coach, and fan base.

You can follow Martin Maldonado on Twitter: @Machete1224

Miss anyone along the way? Catch up on the Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers profiles to this point:

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