This is a tale of two catchers.
One, Buster Posey, has lived up to the potential that came with being the fifth overall pick in the 2008 draft. Kyle Skipworth, who was taken by the Marlins with the sixth pick that year, so far has not.
“That’s not even apples to apples right now,” Skipworth said of any comparison between him and Posey, the Giants’ All-Star catcher and last season’s National League Most Valuable Player. “He’s just an unbelievable player.”
Posey is regarded as the majors’ top hitting catcher.
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Five years after being drafted, Skipworth hasn’t even reached the majors.
But that could soon change.
Skipworth, by virtue of a couple of early spring events, will be receiving a chance over the coming four weeks to see if he belongs. The Marlins are suddenly thin behind the plate because their two most experienced catchers aren’t around.
One, Craig Tatum, told the team he was retiring the first day of camp.
The second, Jeff Mathis, broke his collarbone on a foul tip in the first game this spring. Mathis could be out from six to eight weeks.
While rookie Rob Brantly is set to handle the primary catching role, the Marlins need a backup until Mathis is ready to return. And Skipworth, being the only other catcher on the team’s 40-man roster, is the logical candidate.
“You never like to see guys get hurt,” Skipworth said. “But with that being said, injuries are often what opens doors or give people the ability to get their foot in the door for the first time.”
Marlins manager Mike Redmond said Skipworth, for the time being at least, would take Mathis’ spot and alternate starts with Brantly in Grapefruit League games.
“That’s the situation we’re in,” Redmond said. “It’s a tremendous opportunity for him. He’s a strong physical catcher. He’s got a good arm. And from what I’ve seen, he’s got some pop in his bat, too.”
Skipworth has that. He hit 21 home runs last season for Double A Jacksonville. But he also hit just .217 and struck out 143 times in 420 at bats, which has been par for the course. In his four minor-league seasons, Skipworth has struck out, on average, once in every three at bats.
Therein lies his problem.
Although Skipworth’s reputation has improved defensively, offensively it has declined significantly since the Marlins made him their first-round pick in 2008.
He knows that.
“I always knew in the back of my mind I could catch,” Skipworth said. “Now, did I think my offense would lag behind my development as a catcher? No.”
Skipworth said part of the issue has been the time he has put into improving as a catcher.
“That’s taken away from some of the offensive stuff,” Skipworth said of his work trying to improve defensively. “But that’s the most important side of the game, being behind the plate, running the staff, being good back there. That’s my priority now.”
The Marlins would be content with that.
After all, Mathis is no great shakes with a bat. But Mathis has hundreds of major-league games under his belt and is regarded as a strong defensive catcher.
Unless the Marlins acquire a veteran backup, which is a real possibility, they’ll be watching Skipworth carefully to decide if he’s capable of handling the backup job in Mathis’ absence.
Skipworth is cautiously optimistic.
“You don’t want to look too far ahead,” Skipworth said. “If you start thinking big picture, then you lose sight of the things you need to do day by day.”