Lucas May sounds like a baseball player’s name. Actually, it sounds like a name from the 1960s or 1970s. Either way, the ball jumped off his bat yesterday, as he went 2-for-3 with a double, run scored and two RBIs. If the name’s not familiar, the Mets signed May to a minor league contract last December and he is in camp battling for the backup catcher spot.
May is a baseball lifer. He was drafted in 2003 and did not make his major league debut until 2010, when he came up in September and got into 12 games with the Royals. With the injury to Jason Kendall, it looked like May was going to catch a break and earn a spot with Kansas City for Opening Day last year. Instead he did not play a game in the majors, got off to a terrible start at Triple-A and was dealt to Arizona in mid-year.
A .200 BABIP doomed May last year at Omaha, where he put up a .176/.263/.329 line in 95 PA. After the trade he went back to being the same hitter he was in 2010, as his .270/.363/.479 line for Reno compared favorably to the .275/.362/.516 line he posted the previous year.
Originally a shortstop, May switched to the outfield before landing behind the plate. He converted to catcher before the 2007 season and has worn the tools of ignorance for just five years. No one will confuse May with Johnny Bench, but he has worked hard to become an acceptable backstop and last year he threw out 28 percent (18-47) of opposing baserunners.
Most fans wanted to see the Mets pick up a catcher in the offseason, someone to at least mentor Josh Thole, if not outright challenge him for playing time. Instead, the Mets spent nearly all of their available money on the bullpen, determined that a Thole-Mike Nickeas combo could at least hold the fort at catcher.
But not only did the Mets lack options at catcher at the major league level, it is likely the weakest position in the system as far as players who will likely reach the majors and contribute more than a cup of coffee. At the very least, May should provide a solid option at Triple-A.
Nickeas has been universally praised for his work handling pitchers. The latest hurler to credit him is Matt Harvey, who Nickeas caught during the offseason. However, the question with Nickeas is if he can hit enough to be the team’s backup catcher. Last year, Nickeas hit just .189 in limited action with the Mets. In eight years in the minors, Nickeas has a lifetime .671 OPS.
While Nickeas is the front-runner for the team’s backup catcher, we should not rule out the possibility of May breaking camp with the job. Nickeas spent the offseason working on his hitting and so far has two hits in six at-bats. But if Nickeas tails off and May can continue his hot hitting from yesterday, he will make it hard on Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins as they decide who to bring north with the club