Last week the Brewers announced the names of 10 non-roster invitees to spring training. Besides these 10, several veteran players are competing for a spot on the 40 man roster. While all these players face pressure to perform during spring training, who has the most pressure to perform well?
My interpretation of who is under the most pressure this spring training is 3B prospect Lucas Erceg. This is his second consecutive invite to Brewers camp, but unlike last season, he needs to perform well this year.
Once a highly regarded prospect in the Brewers system, Erceg has seen his prospect status fall quite a bit over the last 12 months.
Why does Erceg need to stand out this year?
Heading into the 2019 season, the Brewers already had an everyday third baseman in Travis Shaw. Shaw was coming off a tremendous season in which he hit a career-high 32 home runs. With Mike Moustakas heading to second base, Shaw was pegged as the everyday third baseman and no matter how well Erceg played in spring training, nothing was going to change that.
Heading into the 2020 season, the Brewers third base situation is much different. Shaw and Moustakas are gone. Added to the roster is Jedd Gyorko, Ryon Healy, and Eric Sogard. This adds depth but leaves the long-term starting third base job up for grabs as the Brewers are expected to start the season off with a platoon.
If Erceg plays well during spring training, he could possibly make the 40 man roster, Opening Day roster, and get a few early season at bats to prove himself among the other players. This would be similar to how Jesus Aguilar made the opening day roster in 2017 and Ji-Man Choi in 2018.
How has Erceg performed so far in his career?
As a second round pick in 2016, Erceg advanced through the minor league ranks fairly quickly. In his first full minor league season he lead the Carolina league with 81 RBIs while hitting for a .256 average and 15 home runs. In 2018 he spent his entire season in Double-A Biloxi where he finished with 13 home runs, a .248 average, and did not show signs of improvement in terms of plate discipline.
2019 was by far very disappointing. He failed to raise his play to the level of Triple-A competition and finished with a career worst .215 batting average and a 25% strikeout rate.
As an invite to big league camp in 2019, Erceg’s production was inconsistent. He received 45 spring training at-bats and had just a bleak .222 batting average. However, of his 10 hits, seven of them went for extra bases including three home runs and four doubles.
As I mentioned, this spring is big for Lucas Erceg. If the 24-year old does not perform well in spring training he will likely start the year in Triple-A again. On the other hand, he could also have an electric spring and earn a 40 man roster spot and potentially and Opening Day roster nod. Confidence levels are huge for athletes of all sports and with a chance to earn big league innings at third base expect Erceg to put forth his best effort.
What happens if Erceg plays poorly? There would still be a chance he could receive playing time with the Brewers. If any or all of the platoon options don’t pan out for Craig Counsell and Erceg is playing well in the minor leagues, he could earn a promotion. However, if Erceg plays poorly at camp and in the minors, the Brewers may be forced to contemplate his future role with the organization and the future at the third base position.
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Erceg would’ve been primed for big league opportunities last season and could have even had the job to himself this season if he had put up good numbers in 2019. But he didn’t, and if he struggles in back-to-back seasons in the highest level of the minors, especially a league that saw a big boost in offense with the use of the big league baseballs, Erceg’s prospect status will plummet further. An early round draft pick in 2016, Erceg has high expectations on him and 2020 is a huge year for him.