May Impresses Dodgers With Late Heroics

The Dodgers have had a tradition of switching players from the field to behind the plate where they have found success. Carlos Santana became to adept that after his trade to Cleveland he became the club's top prospect. Lucas May made the switch about the same time and that experiment has come to fruition, with the young man shaking off a broke hand to excel.

May punctuated the first .300 season of his career with a bravura performance in the World Cup and has regained the coveted "prospect" tag that he had earned after smacking 25 home runs for Inland Empire in 2007.

He was drafted as a shortstop, moved to the outfield and finally was handed a catcher's glove and mask and told, "Let's try it behind the plate."

That sort of conversion can only be successful with the right sort of candidate. As many have been give a shot at it as have succeeded and rarely has it ever worked as quickly as it had with Russell Martin.

In Mays case, his improvement as a catcher has come from long hours of hard work. Forcing yourself to throw your body in the path of a 90 mph fastball that is skipping off the plate takes some time to get used to.

He has always had exceptional power but for his first four years as a pro he has been a man in search of a position.

The whole thing seemed to come together in 2009, despite missing a good deal of the season with a broken hand. He missed most of June and July but still finished the season, his second at Double-A, with a .306 average, a .390 on-base percentage and an .848 on-base plus slugging, all career highs.

Then he climaxed his appearance with the USA team in the World Cup by slugging a three-run home run, then added a clutch RBI single in the seventh inning in a 10-5 win to top Cuba and bring the title home to the United States.

Assistant GM, Player Development De Jon Watson was impressed.

"Every game that he caught, they won," he said. "That was the big thing for me was that he was catching key game and guiding the pitchers to wins.

"When he had the broken had, it was the first time for me in almost two years where we had seen him really come full circle with his offense and defense. He was really catching he ball well and offensively his approach may have been he best it's been as a professional."

May was the Midwest High School Player of the Year n 2003 and played shortstop over the summer on a travel team that included Scott Elbert and Blake DeWitt. He signed as an eighth round selection and after being sent to the Gulf Coast League he led the league in assists and went hit .347 in his first 21 professional games before tapering off to .252-0-10.

He showed vast improvement at the plate in 2004 at Ogden, recording a .286-5-30 mark before going out with a broken hamate bone in his hand after 34 games.

In 2005 at Columbus, simple ground balls suddenly became unplayable. After an error, it seemed to affect his next play and the harder he'd try to shake it, the worse it got.

It was decided to move him to the outfield. However, no sooner had he settled in he suffered a hernia. They had to operate to repair it and Luke's season was over. He finished with a .229 average but added some power, smacking nine home runs and knocking in 53.

In 2006, Luke reported in the best shape of his life. There were no more thoughts of infield play for him as he'd been assigned to left. Later moved to center he was making the plays and contributing offensively. He doubled his home run output to 18, banged 27 doubles and led the organization in triples with nine. He also set a career-high with 82 runs batted in.

They began converting him into a catcher in the Arizona Instructional League that fall and he showed aptitude for the position.

The position change didn't affect his batting and, starting behind the plate at Inland Empire, the 22-year-old from St. Louis went hitless in the opener, then proceeded to have three hits in each of the next three games. He wound up going 9-for-18 including three home runs, one triple and three doubles, driving in nine runs. He had a batting average of .500 and a slugging percentage of an incredible 1.278.

Of course, no one could keep that pace up but May finished second in the Dodgers system in home runs, slugging 25 of them for the Sixty Sixers to lead the team. Remarkably for a catcher, he was second in runs scored (81), fourth in runs batted in (89), and eighth in hits (130) and slugging (.465).

He seemingly became a prospect you couldn't ignore but his critics pointed out that struck out way too much, was a .250 hitter and had all sorts of trouble behind the plate.

Not throwing, he has always had an exceptional arm, but the passed balls piled up and he showed steady improvement in blocking balls in the dirt.

But one thing no one could criticize was his work ethic. Few if any players in the system are more devoted to the game and are willing to put in the time that it takes to get better at it.

Nobody's claimed he was the next Russell Martin, he was a kid with some talent to watch.

Invited to his first Major League camp and second Spring Training as a catcher, He quickly became one of the best catching prospects in the organization as he demonstrated for Dodgers manager Joe Torre with a game-tying, three-run pinch-hit homer in the ninth inning against the Red Sox in a spring game.

"I had heard about May," Torre said after May's homer in Ft. Myers. "He certainly is living up to his potential. He seems to be an offensive force. He's still learning behind the plate, but he has ability."

He was added to the 40-man roster but his numbers slipped in 2008 at Double-A Jacksonville before his breakout season at Chattanooga when he boosted his batting average 76 points, his on-base percentage nearly 100 points and his OBP from .676 to .858. The World Cup performance was then icing on the cake.

He's is a free swinger and will always collect a number of strikeouts although he is working on that, too. However, he's an athlete, which is why they thought he may be able to handle the move back of the plate.

May could have easily been ranked in the top 15 on this list. But if he can sustain the level of play he reached in 2009, he won't be listed on the post-season prospect list many more times. He'll be listed on the Dodgers', or some other MLB team's, active roster.

His record:

LUCAS 'LUKE' MAY   br  tr  6-0  190
Born- October 24, 1984
Obtained- Selected in eighth round of 2003 draft

year team     ave   obp   gm   ab   r    h  2b  3b  hr  bi  sb
2003  GCL     .252  .350   48  159  19   40   8  0   0  10  11
2004  Ogden   .286  .329   34  147  25   42   5  2   5  30   4
2005  Col     .229  .267   99  385  46   88  14  2   9  53   5		  	 
2006  Col     .273  .332  119  450  76  123  27  9  18  82  14
2007  InEmp   .256  .313  128  507  81  130  25  3  25  89   5 
2008  Jax     .230  .294  107  392  54   90  27  1  13  54   6
2009  Chatt   .306  .390   68  235  32   72  18  1   6  32   3
 Totals	      .257  .318  603 2275 333  585 134 18  76 350  45