Once Mat Gamel and Corey Hart suffered knee injuries and were deemed unavailable for opening day, the Brewers needed another corner infield and bench bat. Many fans thought Hunter Morris would push for a spot on the big-league roster. Instead, 30-year-old Blake Lalli rose to the occasion in spring training and played his way onto the Brewers’ 25-man roster.
As an undrafted free agent and a minor-league journeyman, any role on a major-league club is supremely coveted. I got the chance to catch up with Lalli earlier this season and talked about his career and his time with the Brewers’ organization.
Talking about his career in the minor leagues:
“I went to college at Gardner-Webb University, and after I graduated, I signed with the Cubs as a free agent in 2006. I was with the Cubs my whole career, and I made my major-league debut with them last year. I was traded to Oakland in late August, and after a month the season ended, I became a minor-league free agent. I signed pretty quickly with the Brewers in the offseason. I have played against Milwaukee’s farm system for years, and day one with the Brewers in Spring Training every one of the coaches told me: ‘I’ve seen you play … a lot.'”
Talking about his major-league debut with the Cubs in 2012:
“The first time you get called up to the big leagues, obviously its unbelievable and you never forget it. I pretty much knew it was temporary due to another player being on the DL. I got called back up to the big leagues in August, and then I didn’t get activated and got sent back down. Then two days later, I got traded. It was a weird couple weeks for me.”
Talking about his mentality coming into Spring Training this year:
“I have always felt like if I had the opportunity to showcase my talents, I would do well. People have always told me I came out of nowhere because I wasn’t drafted. But to me, if you look at what I’ve done in the minor leagues, I’m a shade under a .300 hitter over my whole career. I know that I’m older because of the way that I signed, but I know what I can do on the baseball field. So coming into the spring, I told myself to just do what I’ve always done, and if I get opportunities I’m going to do well.
“And as an undrafted free agent, if you don’t do well with the opportunities you are given, you aren’t around long. I’ve taken advantages of opportunities in the past, so that’s what I tried to do there. With Maldy and Lucroy playing the [WBC] Classic, I got the opportunity to play every day. As a player, you gotta believe you can play up to the guys around you. Over my career, I’ve always done well with the numbers, so I always believed if I got the chance to play every day I would show up.”
Talking about his versatility on the field and his favorite position:
“I was a third baseman in college, and I converted to catcher my first year in the minor leagues. Since I had played other positions in the past, on a lot of minor league teams I was the third catcher. Most catchers only catch, so if there were other catchers on the team they typically played behind the plate and the coaches would put me at third or first to get my bat in the lineup.
“I love catching. I’m as comfortable back there as I am in the infield. I just like having a say in the game.”
Talking about his approach to pinch-hitting:
“I try to be aggressive on strikes. After I made the team out of Spring Training, it was one of the first times I had ever come off the bench to pinch hit. It is tough, but in a way its kind of fun. You know you are going to be put in the game in a decent situation, and I liked it. You just gotta approach the at-bat with your goal being no matter what, I have to help the team here. Whether its getting a runner over or sacrificing, its a total win if you help the team in some way. You just have to find a way to help the team there.”
Talking about his game winning hit against the Giants on April 17, 2013:
“It was awesome. In the pinch-hitting role, that’s the spot you want to be in and the result you want to have. It was my first hit as a Brewer, so it was special. Highlight of my career so far. There’s a lot of guys who never get a chance to win a game like that, so it was fun.”