March 24, 2013

Miami Marlins’ Kyle Skipworth calm amid roster limbo

Young catcher Kyle Skipworth isn’t sweating the final days of spring, even as a spot on the final roster hangs in the balance.

Kyle Skipworth has the kind of confidence that is typical for a major-league player. A sound belief in his own abilities and a presence that he carries through the clubhouse like he has never had an unsure day in his life.

In Saturday’s matinee victory against the St. Louis Cardinals, Skipworth drew three walks, showing discipline at the plate as if standing 60 feet away from Lance Lynn was as natural as getting out of bed in the morning.

“It’s a super on-base percentage,” he said, laughing. “I may have never done that in a professional game, actually.”

He didn’t do it in Little League either, as far as he can remember. “Literally, it was just see ball, hit ball,” he said.

Skipworth’s path now seems to be I-95 south to Marlins Park, something he wasn’t expecting when he arrived at camp with catchers Rob Brantly and Jeff Mathis firmly slotted into the roster.

“Obviously, the circumstances that came about were not the ones that you want, as a teammate and now a friend of Jeff’s,” he said, bringing up the veteran Mathis’ collarbone injury. “You never want to see anyone get hurt.

“With that being said, often times, when guys get hurt is when people are able to have an opportunity.”

The sixth overall pick in the 2008 Entry Draft has never played a game in a big-league uniform, but his opportunity might just be weeks away.

There will always be an echo of who came before him (Buster Posey) and what kind of accomplishments have been enjoyed by the Giants catcher since his debut in 2010.

“You never know when a guy is going to figure it out, so to speak. Sometimes it takes guys until when they’re 25, 26 years old,” manager Mike Redmond said. “Sometimes in this game, we expect such things immediately that we forget that … they’re young players. Sometimes we have to be a little more patient.”

Slowly, Skipworth refined his defensive abilities in Jacksonville, where he has spent the past two seasons with the Double A Suns. Steadily, the results have come. He nearly doubled his assists from 44 to 81 and threw out 35 percent of base stealers.

When he was asked to step into a bigger role with Mathis on the sideline, Skipworth didn’t hesitate.

“Watching him play, with any young player, there’s some inexperience with the game calling and working with pitchers, but that’s all stuff that comes with experience,” Redmond said. “As far as the way he swings, the way he throws, I’ve been impressed. Every chance I’ve had to get him into the game, he’s done a great job.”

When Skipworth was taking a lot of pitches and getting an early feeling for who he was facing at the plate, Redmond pulled him aside:

“I said, ‘You’ve got nothing to lose. Just go out there and swing the bat.’ ”

In what he describes as a combination of factors, between unexpectedly taking on bigger responsibilities and his conversations with Redmond, Skipworth feels more relaxed. The game has slowed down, and it has allowed him to battle harder to be competitive with his at-bats.

“You have to tell yourself, ‘I belong here.’ Once I started doing that, everything started to fall into place,” he said. “When I walk into the locker room, I feel like this is where I belong. This is where I want to be.”

For some, the constant not-knowing would be a painful mental toll, but there isn’t an ounce of stress in how Skipworth speaks about the limbo he’s in as Grapefruit League play winds down.

“I’m trying to stay even-keeled, as hard as it is. The days are numbered and they’re counting down,” he said. “You kind of have to take it with a grain of salt. … It’s a business. Things always change.

“I have to go about my business day to day … knowing they may call me into the office and say I’m going to Triple A or I’m going to Miami.”

Skipworth has seen camp as a showcase to prove he can catch; an opportunity, not a challenge. He still doesn’t know what’s going to happen when the season opens, and he is almost eerily unfased by it for someone who is so young in his professional career.

“I think I’ve really done a good job of saying, ‘Hey, it is what it is.’ Those factors are out of [my] control. I’ve finally bought into that in a lot of baseball-related stuff,” the catcher said.

“I think I’ve matured in knowing there’s so much stuff we have to deal with on a daily basis, you start worrying and it can just crush you.”

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