X-factor Lucroy getting back into All-Star shape

Resurgence could lead to trade due to Brewers catcher's favorable contract

X-factor Lucroy getting back into All-Star shape

PHOENIX -- Jonathan Lucroy's mantra entering Spring Training was "no drama," and he nearly executed it. Save for one story last week in a national publication dramatizing the fact Lucroy and wife Sarah had yet to finalize their regular-season housing, Lucroy avoided talk about the trading block and just played baseball.

Now he is an "X-factor" for the Brewers entering 2016. Will Lucroy return to the form that earned him a fourth-place finish in '14 National League Most Valuable Player Award voting? Will he be felled by more of the freak injuries -- a broken left toe early in the season and a concussion late -- that ruined his '15?

And, the question on most Brewers fans' minds: Will Lucroy finish the season in Milwaukee, or will he be shipped someplace else? He is under club control through for the next two seasons at less than $10 million total, making Lucroy a relative bargain and a sought-after commodity on the trade market.

True to his strategy, Lucroy is taking a no-drama approach to his pivotal season.

"It's boring, it's cliché, but I just want to be consistent," Lucroy said. "Hit the ball hard and have good at-bats. Catching-wise, always be in a good position. If I do those things, I'm going to put numbers up. What those numbers will be, they will be."

Two years ago, Lucroy's numbers placed him among the game's elite catchers. He batted .301/.373/.465, became the first Brewers catcher ever to start an All-Star Game and the first catcher ever to lead the Major Leagues in doubles (with a franchise-record 53).

But mirroring team-wide struggles, Lucroy was unable to replicate those numbers in 2015. He got off to a terrible start at the plate before fracturing the big toe on his left foot in late April. He returned before the end of May and put up respectable numbers before sustaining a concussion on Sept. 8 in Miami that kept him from catching the rest of the way.

Over the winter, while the Brewers dove head-first into a rebuilding period, Lucroy focused on putting his body in position for a bounce-back. He worked out with college acquaintance Eugene Kwarteng, who played football at Lucroy's alma mater, the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, and later in the Canadian Football League. About five years ago, Lucroy showed Kwarteng the offseason training manual he'd been given by the Brewers, and the two worked together to modify it with some of Kwarteng's favorite workouts.

Lucroy on upcoming season

This past offseason, for the first time, Lucroy's kid brother joined in. David Lucroy is a pitcher, and was Milwaukee's 20th-round Draft pick in June.

"It was great," Jonathan Lucroy said. "I enjoy having him around, first of all. But it also helps me to have someone to push me. Working out by yourself is boring. It's different when you have somebody else -- especially him, because he loves working out. He is in really good shape. He helped push me a lot."

The toughest exercise, Lucroy said, was one-legged angled TRX squats. Holding a strap attached to an overhead bar with one hand and a weighted kettle bell in the other, Lucroy leaned back on one leg with the other in the air and performed sets of squats. For days that followed, his quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes would scream.

"Brutal. Awful," Lucroy said.

The idea all winter, he said, was improving his core strength.

"Just tying it all together. 'Full body armor' is a good phrase to use," Lucroy said. "Baseball is crazy because we're playing every day, and that's a lot of wear and tear, so you have to be fully protected. The workouts were designed to do that.

"I train to get sore, because soreness means growth."

Lucroy's solo shot

Lucroy will turn 30 in June, but he said that milestone birthday had nothing to do with his offseason work.

"This was just taking it to the next level," Lucroy said. "If you want to be the best, you have to work like it. That's the bottom line. It had nothing to do with my age. Age is only a number. I don't care. I got to see LaTroy Hawkins throwing 95 mph at 40 years old. That stuff doesn't matter to me."

In Cactus League play, manager Craig Counsell saw the same old Lucroy.

"His at-bats are exactly what you'd expect," Counsell said. "He's driven the ball, he lets the ball get deep, he fights off two-strike pitches with base hits to right field. That's what he's going to do, and he's good at it.

"Luc's a really good player, and that did not change last year. He is a really good player and he's one of the best catchers in the game."

If he shows it in 2016, it could mean a change of scenery.

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.