Around the Horn: Realmuto anchors Marlins' catching

Around the Horn: Realmuto anchors Marlins' catching

Spring Training for the Marlins gets underway with pitchers' and catchers' workouts beginning on Feb. 14 at the Roger Dean Stadium complex in Jupiter, Fla. As the countdown continues, is taking a position-by-position look at how Miami's 2017 squad is shaping up. This is the third in a multipart Around the Horn series that will run periodically until camp starts. Today's focus: Catchers.

MIAMI -- At last, the Marlins have stability behind the plate.

J.T. Realmuto, one of the most promising young catchers in the game, has locked down a position that has been mostly a revolving door for the organization.

Since newly elected Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez was with the Marlins in 2003, the organization has been unable to settle on a primary catcher. Miami has had 11 catchers start on Opening Day in the past 14 years.

Realmuto has given Miami a long-term catching solution. He was a third-round Draft pick by the Marlins in 2011.

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"J.T. is a physical kid," manager Don Mattingly said at the end of the 2016 season. "He's a really good athlete, and a solid part of our core moving forward. A guy you can count on, plays the game right. Has the right mentality. A guy you really feel like, 'Hey, he's a guy I'll keep all day long, and I'll go to battle with him.' He's one of those guys who is part of what we're doing right now, figuring out who is who."

Realmuto took over for Jarrod Saltalamacchia in late April in 2015, and in 2016, he emerged as one of the top catchers in the National League. According to FanGraphs, Realmuto's 3.5 WAR was tied with Wilson Ramos for second among all NL catchers, behind Buster Posey's 4.0.

Realmuto's game-tying jack

At age 25, Realmuto is just scratching the surface of his potential. In 2016, he delivered one of the best single seasons by a Marlins catcher, batting .303 -- the highest batting average by a Miami catcher who appeared in at least 100 games -- and recording 154 hits, a franchise high for a backstop.

Realmuto's slash line was .303/.343/.428, with 11 home runs, 48 RBIs and 31 doubles. In 2003, Rodriguez's .369 on-base percentage was the best by a Marlins catcher. Realmuto's .343 in 2016 ranks second.

If there is a concern for the Marlins, it's relying too heavily on their everyday catcher. Realmuto appeared in 1,113 innings in 2016. Only St. Louis' Yadier Molina (1,218 1/3) logged more in the NL. To help ease his workload behind the plate, the Marlins are considering giving Realmuto some time at first base as a right-handed-hitting alternative to left-handed-hitting Justin Bour.

The free-agent signing of A.J. Ellis gives Miami the flexibility to use Realmuto at first. Ellis replaces Jeff Mathis as the backup catcher, and the 35-year-old veteran has been reunited with Mattingly, his former manager with the Dodgers.

Ellis' bases-clearing double

More of an offensive presence than Mathis, Ellis has a career .239 batting average. But he had a disappointing season in 2016, playing for Los Angeles and Philadelphia. In 64 games, he combined to hit .216, although is average was .313 in 11 games after being dealt to the Phillies.

Ellis brings plenty of experience, including 17 games in the postseason.

The third catcher on the 40-man roster is Tomas Telis, a switch-hitter who hit his first MLB home run in the final game of the 2016 season. Telis saw limited big league action, but was 4-for-13 (.308) after being called up from Triple-A New Orleans in September.

Telis' first Major League homer

Telis could be an interesting player to follow in Spring Training, because he has played some first base at New Orleans. potentially making him an option at first while also providing an option behind the plate on days Realmuto is at first.

Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for since 2002. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.