Following rewarding year, Lucas aims to stay in Majors
Looking to win utility role, career Minor Leaguer not taking anything for granted
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Ed Lucas spent 10 years climbing an impossible mountain, and after reaching the summit, he finds himself clawing for any foothold he can find. Lucas, in camp with the Marlins this spring, won't allow himself to be satisfied after making it to the Majors. He now wants to stay.
Lucas, selected as a shortstop by the Royals in the eighth round of the 2004 First-Year Player Draft, has played for four organizations, but he seems to have finally found a home with Miami. Lucas is battling with Donovan Solano to break camp as the team's utilityman, and Lucas' 10-year Minor League odyssey has lent him uncommon perspective.
"It is a different feeling, having been there for most of last year," said Lucas. "It's a little bit higher comfort level -- just with the staff and with my teammates -- but at the same time, I'm not taking anything for granted. I'm still considering it a battle for me. I kept my high number that I had last year, because I still felt like I was coming into the same situation as last year. I try not to be complacent."
Lucas, a career .278 hitter in the Minor Leagues, played seven seasons in Kansas City's organization without getting the call to the Majors, and then he spent one season each playing for affiliates of the Atlanta Braves and the Los Angeles Angels. He's played every position except pitcher and catcher in his Minor League odyssey, which finally came to an end with a promotion to the Marlins in 2013.
Lucas played five different positions and batted .256 in 96 games for the Marlins last season, and he went into Tuesday's game against the Red Sox with a .353 spring batting average. Still, Lucas feels like he has to fight for everything, an attitude that must come from his long journey to the Majors.
"I'd absolutely be lying if I said there weren't times where I didn't think I'd make it, times where I seriously considered shutting it down and retiring, moving on with my life," said Lucas, who will turn 32 in May. "But at the end of the day, I thought I could play at this level. I knew it was going to take a special opportunity, which ended up happening. But I wanted to continue to put myself in a spot where -- no matter how minute that chance might've been or how great that chance might've been -- I could capitalize and not deny myself that chance that I had worked so long to try to attain."
Lucas usually carries four gloves in his equipment bag; One for the middle infield, another for the outfield and one each for first and third base. Lucas joked that he even has a catcher's glove, but he hopes that he doesn't have to use it. The Marlins do regard him as a potential emergency catcher, though, which could wind up helping him separate himself from the rest of the utility pack.
"He brings us versatility, and I mean versatility at everything. This guy could pitch. He could catch. He's an outfielder. He's every position in the infield," said manager Mike Redmond. "He can do so many different things. Yesterday, we kind of messed around later in the game and moved him to third, to second and to first. Just getting used to in a game, being able to move to different positions if we're double-switching or pinch-hitting for guys. That's the beauty. You're covered at every position."
And that's not all Lucas brings to the table. The Marlins were among the league's youngest teams last season, and Lucas found himself in an uncommon position. Suddenly, Lucas wasn't just a rookie, he was somehow one of the most experienced players on a roster full of fledglings.
"It's a different scenario. Last year, I was a rookie, and there were a lot of times where I was the oldest guy on the field," Lucas said of being a grizzled second-year player. "I think that's pretty rare. I'm not 20 years old, trying to break in a couple years out of high school. I've been playing professional baseball for 10 years. I've played with all the guys I'm playing against, but it might not have been at this level. It might've been at Triple-A. But I don't want to say I'm uncomfortable in the clubhouse or too comfortable. I feel like I'm not your typical second-year player. I feel like I have a little more salt in my veins."
Lucas -- the first former Dartmouth College player to make the Majors since Mike Remlinger (1991-2006) and Mark Johnson (1995-2002) -- has been putting more time in at shortstop this spring to round out his utility resume. So far, the Marlins have liked what they have seen from him.
"He's got a lot of value for us and he's having a great spring -- and that's just talking defense," said Redmond. "He gave us some great at-bats last year and got some big hits for us. You're talking about a guy who spent a ton of time in Minor Leagues grinding it out. And for him to get an opportunity last year -- coming to the big leagues for the first time -- he made the most of his opportunity."
Lucas, who batted .330 with a .509 slugging percentage against left-handed pitchers last season, loves to hear that kind of talk from his manager, and he wants to make sure he doesn't let up.
After all, Lucas has been everywhere -- and he doesn't want to go back. Lucas has played in two Double-A leagues -- the Texas League and the Southern League -- and both branches of Triple-A, the Pacific Coast League and the International League. And now, he's hungry for more of the Majors.
"It was rewarding," said Lucas of finally breaking through to the big leagues. "It was a kind of validation, just getting here, which was a huge step for me. But beyond just getting here, now it's a matter of trying to find a way to stay. Last year was an amazing year for me. I don't know if I could ever top it. I got married, I got called up and had a baby all in the same year. I really don't know how you could top last year, but I'm trying to hopefully take the next seven or eight years to try and top it."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.