Miami Marlins: The shortstop of the future is behind the plate

Jul 22, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Miami Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 22, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Miami Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

The Miami Marlins are suffering from a lack of infield depth. Relying on marginal Major League talent, some of their woes are a result of cannibalism.

One day, the narrative surrounding the Miami Marlins won’t begin and end by discussing their injury woes. To circumvent the queue the Marlins have out the door of the doctors office, lets take a look at a different contributing factor to their thin infield, one years in the making.

On June 5th, 2010, the Marlins drafted a slick-fielding shortstop in the third round out of Carl Albert High School in Midwest City, Oklahoma. An all around athlete, he lettered in the three major sports in high school. As a quarterback, power forward, and shortstop, J.T. Realmuto shined.

After being drafted by the Marlins, Realmuto decided to forgo an unlimited number of college scholarships for both baseball and football. He joined the Florida Marlins organization and was immediately converted to catch behind the plate. The transition was difficult, but given Realmuto’s athleticism and willingness to learn, he soon became a rising star in the organization.

Two years earlier, the Marlins had drafted who they thought would be their future catcher with the sixth pick of the first round. Kyle Skipworth never panned out. In addition to his offense struggling, his defense never progressed past average. After spending six years in the organization, Skipworth was 0-for-3 with a strikeout and a walk as a Major League baseball player. He was granted free agency in 2014, and the honus was squarely on Realmuto to lock down his spot.

Perceived depth wasn’t what it seemed

The move made sense at the time. The Marlins had Hanley Ramirez at shortstop, who was fresh off a batting title in 2009 and on his way to a third all-star selection. The effort concerns that would eventually move him to L.A. didn’t exist yet. Neither did the injuries that would plague his last few years in Miami. By all accounts, Ramirez was one of the building blocks of the future. There was no reason to think that Realmuto had a shot at being the Miami Marlins next shortstop, so they moved him.

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We all know what came next. The Marlins loaded up on stars ahead of the 2012 season, then promptly unloaded them. After opening a brand new ballpark, Loria showed his true colors again: fire sale. Only two years into converting Realmuto into a catcher, it wasn’t to late to reverse course. And it might have happened, if not for one of the players the Marlins got back from Toronto.

Adeiny Hechavarria was touted as a future gold glove caliber shortstop. He’s the only player in that trade that panned out to be a true Major League caliber player. While the other members of the trade flamed out quickly, Hechavarria has wowed fans with his defense. He holds his position so well, that it often overshadows his struggles at the plate.

The truth is that Hechavarria was likely on his way out of Miami this season anyway. The Marlins have seen increased productivity from Miguel Rojas, and Hechavarria is due to hit free agency next year. As a pro, Hechavarria has produced only 2.2 WAR, and took a huge step back in 2016 statistically. While his defense has continued to be among the best in the league, his offensive woes became to much to overlook.

Miami Marlins in a pickle

As a result of their injury woes, the Marlins recently recalled Steve Lombardozzi from triple-A. On Wednesday night against the Cardinals, they shifted Dee Gordon from second base to shortstop. Gordon played in the hole before coming over to Miami from the Dodgers, but it had been a number of years since he saw game action there.

These days, the Miami Marlins are likely wishing they had taken a Craig Biggio approach to J.T. Realmuto’s development. He is a player truly capable of playing eight different spots on the field. (I’ll bet nine if you give him a few bullpen sessions first). Perhaps it’s not too late for them to go ahead with it. Earlier this year, they were trying to get Realmuto comfortable at first base. Now with three catchers on the roster, and the team in need of a spark, it isn’t impossible.

Next: Miami Marlins: History says Don Mattingly’s seat is getting hot

Because of Realmuto’s supreme athletic ability, nothing is out of the question. We’ve seen it at the Major League level before. If push comes to shove, don’t be surprised to see J.T. Realmuto on the receiving end of a throw down to second.