Maldonado hoping to make cut in near future
Brewers' top catching prospect doubling as team's hairstylist
PHOENIX -- The Barber was back in business this week, trying to make the Brewers' cut.
Martin Maldonado is Milwaukee's best catching prospect, and he's is also the team's resident stylist. He and his clippers camped in the clubhouse bathroom at Maryvale Baseball Park on Monday morning with a line of teammates waiting for their trim.
"I just enjoy it," said Maldonado, who gets a haircut every Tuesday and Saturday during the winter in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico. "Some of these guys, I've been cutting their hair for years. [Pitcher Wily] Peralta, probably since I signed here."
His hobby began simply enough. Maldonado had a hard time finding a barbershop in Phoenix during his first Spring Training in Arizona, so he stopped at a department store, bought clippers and started practicing on himself. In 2007, he took some classes in Puerto Rico.
Might Maldonado someday, when his playing career is over, make it a career?
"If I had to, sure," he said.
Maldonado is focused on his day job for now. Long been regarded as a quality defensive catcher, he took a big leap at the plate in 2011, batting .287 with a .373 on-base percentage and 11 home runs between Double-A Huntsville and Triple-A Nashville. Not bad, considering he started the season a .225 career hitter. Maldonado earned a promotion to Milwaukee and made his Major League debut Sept. 3 at Houston.
But even after that breakthrough, Maldonado said he's more focused on his work behind the plate than in the batter's box.
"My defense is my heart," he said. "I take pride in my defense. Worry about the ERA of your pitchers more than your batting average."
"I know I can hit," Maldonado added.
He will probably hit in the Minors again this season. Jonathan Lucroy is a fixture behind the plate for Milwaukee and George Kottaras is slated to return as the backup. Kottaras is a left-handed-hitting foil for the right-handed Lucroy, and has served as veteran left-hander Randy Wolf's personal catcher the last two seasons.
Maldonado, who appeared in relief of Kottaras against the Dodgers on Tuesday, will have to wait.
"I think everybody feels he could be a Major League catcher right now," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "Offensively, last year was the first year he had a lot of at-bats, and he really hit well. He's a guy that's definitely in the mix. We were very happy with our catching last year, so we'll see what happens there."
Outfielder Logan Schafer played with Maldonado at two levels in 2011. He remembers Maldonado batting as high as third at Huntsville. But he mostly remembers watching Maldonado catch.
"Ridiculously good," Schafer said.
In what way? Blocking balls in the dirt?
"Everything," Schafer said.
Framing? Game-calling? Throwing?
"Everything," Schafer said again. "Pitchers love his targets, and a lot of times, when he's calling games, he can read swings. He's fun to watch catch."
Right-hander Tim Dillard said Maldonado is also fun to throw to. The pair has been together for parts of the past three seasons, including the last two with Dillard mastering the switch to a sidearm delivery.
Dillard, a former catcher, has a particular appreciation for Maldonado's skill.
"As big as he is, he gets under the ball," Dillard said. "That means if I get my sinker down like I want to, he's actually coming up with his glove. That helps me stick it down there, whereas other guys might catch it and the glove falls out of the zone. He takes great pride in that, in framing pitches."
Maldonado gets so low because of his strong lower half, Dillard said. It's not as easy as people think, because the catcher must stay low for a long time, while a pitcher gets set, checks runners and delivers.
Then there's Maldonado's plus arm.
"Before I knew him, when he was a young guy in camp and we were doing stuff on the infield, I noticed his arm," Dillard said. "A canon. There are times I'm in a bind with a runner on, that I almost bait the runner to go. They tell you to vary your looks, but I almost want the guy to take off. If I give 'Maldy' a good throw, he's going to hose the guy at second. If he doesn't throw somebody out, it's usually the pitcher's fault."
But does he trust Maldonado with the clippers? Dillard said he hasn't yet had a cut from his catcher, but has seen plenty of others settle into the chair. Ryan Braun had a trim the other day, and Aramis Ramirez, too.
Ramirez offered Maldonado an opportunity to try his specialty, those sharp lines around the forehead and sideburns.
"You can tell something about him by the way he works: Intricate, careful, detailed," Dillard said. "He carries that style with him behind the dish."