It wasn't that long ago that Martin Maldonado looked like he might be a breakout star.
He was called up to the big leagues after Jonathan Lucroy's 2012 hand injury, inserted into the lineup and nearly immediately started hitting, posting a .288/.345/.451 batting line in his first 61 games. This was an unexpected twist, as Maldonado was a career .236/.313/.333 hitter over nine minor league seasons.
Unfortunately, Maldonado's performance since then would imply that the minor league numbers were closer to his true offensive talent level. He hit .184/.231/.245 in his final 17 games in 2012 and .169/.236/.284 in 67 games for the Brewers in 2013, finishing the season with two extra base hits in his final 71 plate appearances.
So now, looking at Maldonado, we have two questions:
- First, is there reason to believe he'll improve offensively? At this point, his hot streak in 2012 looks like an outlier compared to the rest of his career. He also faces the additional challenge of trying to get into a rhythm with infrequent playing time.
- Second, if he's not going to improve, is his defense enough to justify keeping him around? Maldonado is above-average defensively behind the plate, but if he's going to continue to bat in the mid-.100s then he's negating a lot of that value.
Here's a quick glimpse into the life of a backup catcher: On June 9, Martin Maldonado appeared in a game after sitting the last three out. He went 1-for-2 with a walk, homered and scored twice. Then he had to wait three games to play again before facing the Phillies on June 14.
Maldonado was 0-for-2 in the sixth inning of this game when he came up with the bases loaded and was hit by a pitch, driving home the game-tying run. Later, the Brewers trailed 3-2 in the ninth when Maldonado came up with the bases empty and two outs and made this happen:
The Brewers went on to lose the game 4-3 in ten innings anyway, but that's hardly Maldonado's fault.
Maldonado has a year and 156 days of MLB service time, falling just shy of the cutoff for two years. If he spends all season in the majors next year he'll likely qualify for arbitration as a Super 2 player for 2015, and if that happens he'd get four arbitration years before becoming a free agent following the 2018 season.
I believe but have not confirmed that Maldonado also has at least one minor league option remaining.
UPDATE: @Mass_Haas confirms what I suspected:
@BrewCrewBall One left. Added to 40-man 11/03/10. Optioned to AAA 03/25/11 and 03/29/12.— Jim Goulart (@Mass_Haas) November 12, 2013
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