JUPITER -- Rob Brantly hasnt forgotten what his catching coordinator in the minor leagues told him: have fun and learn something new every day.
When asked, he easily recounts the lesson he learned in his last game; it was about offense, and hes quick to mention that jumping at pitches is an ongoing battle.
Its hard to believe that this 23-year-old who is immersed in the Book of Mormon before a game against the Washington Nationals is a week away from making his first Opening Day start. The minor leagues werent so long ago.
Brantly is well-spoken, and it seems like he could go on forever about something hes interested in talking about. His eyes are always engaged.
I think dealing with the debut part, as much as I try to hide the fact that its, Im not nervous, Im not nervous, Im not nervous, going through that process is going to help me, Brantly said, thinking about the final week before Opening Day.
That Ive been [in the majors] for a month and a half, its still a brief time, but the fact that Ive actually gotten a taste of it, its going to help calm me down a little bit.
When Brantly arrived at Marlins Park in August, he played backup to veteran John Buck. Bucks departure brought another experienced catcher in Jeff Mathis, but the former Blue Jay has been sidelined after sustaining a broken collarbone early in spring training.
Brantly will take on the primary role with 31 games under his belt and just 28 of them behind the plate.
When Mathis was here in the beginning, right away, he was a big help to me, Brantly said. I went to him and started asking him questions about experiences I had last year when I got called up, or some things I could do better.
Mathis hasnt completely disappeared hes still wandering around the clubhouse with his arm in a sling, and Brantly still calls him to pick his brain when hes not around.
The best part about it, is I have a manager [Mike Redmond] also who has had a great career as a major-leaguer, and that helps as well, he said. Hell pick my brain as much as I pick his because he wants to figure out what Im thinking too and where my thought process is at.
The timing for Miami to be managed by a 13-year-veteran catcher in Redmond is perfect. The two spend time between innings discussing the game and working through scenarios to polish Brantlys game. Redmond digs for answers, and hes happy with what hes getting back from his soon-to-be everyday backstop.
Part of not knowing him when I was coming in here was to kind of sit back and not give him too much out of the chute to get a feel for him; where hes at, what he sees and his vision of catching, Redmond said.
Heading into the regular season, Redmond wants to keep it simple with a game plan and allow the young player to be himself.
So far this spring, hes done a great job. Weve been working a lot on his footwork and throwing. His throws have been accurate to second and hes been blocking great, the manager said. Im very happy with how hard hes worked and the effort hes put into it.
His offense has offered no reason for concern. In his short time with the Marlins, he homered three times and had a .290 average by seasons end. Spring training as been no different, showcasing Brantlys ability to drive in runs and hit for extra bases. His average this spring is .310.
For Brantlys debut, there wont be a seasoned backup sitting in the dugout to mentor him. The Marlins find him in the spotlight with a vacancy to back him up that can only be filled by another young player. There is no one else in the clubhouse with any major-league experience.
I do have concerns about that, but I think he and I have a good relationship, and I feel like I can help him through anything, Redmond said.
Until Mathis returns to the roster, Redmond will have to work with an atypical plan. Kyle Skipworth, who at 23 hasnt played higher than Double A ball, likely will be the interim backup.
Obviously [its] not an ideal situation to have your backup catcher be a left-handed hitter as well, and [have] two young guys, but thats the situation were in, Redmond said. Will it change? Im not sure. Right now, thats just where were at.