If you’re a frustrated Miami Marlins fan still trying to crawl out from the wreckage of the fallen expectations of 2015, than you’re likely here to find a positive lifeline to cling to. A cornerstone to build on, something salvageable to give hope going forward, some other cliché with which to work with when it comes to making sense of this lost season.
Well, here it is: for a team that couldn’t hit water if it fell out of a boat when it came to runners in scoring position (RISP), they did manage to bat at least .500 when it came to answering lineup questions from the previous season.
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In 2014, the Marlins used nearly a full year of MVP-caliber Giancarlo Stanton muscle to mask serious deficiencies at four positions: catcher, first base, second base, and third base (in the second half).
Today’s edition of the Marlin Maniac Season Review starts with the first of those issues, and the resounding answer provided by rookie J.T. Realmuto. Time to talk catcher.
Of course, Miami did enter the last two seasons with a veteran, World Series winning backstop in Jarrod Saltalamacchia. However, after posting his lowest batting average in his career as a starter and pacing the position in errors, Saltalamacchia entered 2015 with confidence he’d rebound…and a shorter leash.
Realmuto had shown real promise as a September call up, and the 2014 version of Jeff Mathis was far more competent than the model fans just finished enduring. So when Salty answered the 2015 bell with a 2 for 22 start at the plate, J.T. was brought up to offer some competition.
After a 2 for 3 season debut by the rookie, the veteran found himself being issued his outright release less than a week later; so low was his fall from grace in the eyes of the team that this decision was made despite the loss of Mathis to injury the same week.
By comparison, Realmuto was a revelation. Even the team’s veteran pitchers went out of their way to comment on his poise behind the plate. And when the previous guy was struggling to hit half the Mendoza line, a .239 April was going to turn heads. Yet even with a meager average, J.T. played with enthusiasm. He showed a knack on the base paths, and an athleticism one would expect from a player who split his high school playing days between shortstop and quarterback. April would see him leg out the first of his seven triples, a feat not accomplished by an MLB backstop since 1980. There would be two months where he only hit .200, but there would also be two where he hit over .300, and only two months in which he failed to steal two bases.
Again this is a catcher we’re talking about, and a rookie at that.
Although Realmuto did have one of highest passed ball rates in his first full campaign as a big league backstop, the error count was relatively reasonable at six. Here though, the rookie label must again be brought up. When Saltalamacchia put up his error strewn season, he was doing so as a nine-year veteran. Believing that Realmuto will improve with the glove, despite having a similar career line at the minor league level, seems more than reasonable. But for those that think minor league numbers are a fair projection of future ability, then I would submit to you that he’s eventually reached a batting average of .287 at every level he’s hit at.
Though he will never be a true power threat- no matter how much the fences are moved in– he will put the ball in play, and put his teammates in a position to succeed.
Old baseball wisdom tells you strength up the middle is key to a team’s success. 2015 saw a good deal of promise at three-quarters of that timeless equation, with the capstone of center field serving as the lone weak point due to the junior year sophomore slump of Marcell Ozuna. Both Marlin championship clubs had this formula down, with excellent catching serving as the foundation.
While it’s certainly too soon to call Realmuto the next Charles Johnson or Ivan Rodriguez, it would be hard to name another backstop who’s given you more reason to hope for greatness. J.T. might never pull off the perfect defensive season CJ managed in ’97, but could absolutely manage the top-twelve effort Pudge turned in in ’03.
In the end, despite falling flat in terms of the goal of reaching the postseason, the club did respectably well in addressing the holes they set out to fill; a list of holes that in hindsight made those postseason goals unrealistic at best.
The Miami Marlins can enter the 2015 offseason with a shorter list of issues to address, and that is thanks in no small part to the promising young backstop behind the plate. Much as the case was with the extra playing time for Ozuna and Christian Yelich in 2013 paying 2014 dividends, don’t be surprised if Realmuto takes a big step forward in the 2016 campaign.
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