Miami Marlins

Versatile J.T. Realmuto proving Marlins’ faith in him was warranted

Miami Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto bats against the Washington Nationals on Tuesday, July 28, 2015, in Miami.
Miami Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto bats against the Washington Nationals on Tuesday, July 28, 2015, in Miami. AP

During a stellar high school career in Oklahoma, J.T. Realmuto would occasionally get behind the plate and catch.

One day, while Realmuto was making a rare start at catcher, Marlins scout Steve Taylor showed up. He liked what he saw.

“I think I caught two games in high school and [the Marlins] happened to be at one of them,” said Realmuto, who as a strong-armed shortstop in high school set national high school records with 88 hits and 119 RBI as a senior.

“They said they liked my tools back there and said if they drafted me, they wanted to throw me back there and see how it goes. That’s how it started.”

The Marlins drafted Realmuto 104th in 2010 and he agreed to take up catching and forgo his scholarship at Oklahoma State.

By 2012, thanks in part to the tutelage of former Marlins minor-league catching coordinator Tim Cossins, Realmuto was rated the top defensive catcher in the Single-A Florida State League.

In 2014, he was the top defensive backstop in the Double-A Southern League. Cossins, now with the Cubs organization, still talks with Realmuto.

“It wasn’t an easy transition,’’ he said. “It took a few years in the minors to feel comfortable at the position.”

Today, he’s the Marlins’ starting catcher with a bright future in front of him.

In Wednesday’s 14-6 win over the visiting Red Sox, the 24-year-old Realmuto had a career day.

Realmuto started his day with an RBI single to right to give Miami a 2-1 lead in the second. In the sixth, he drove in another run before capping a 10-run inning with a grand slam to left.

“He finished it in a great manner with that grand slam,’’ teammate Dee Gordon said. “I didn’t even know it was a grand slam at first, then I saw three people running around the bases. It was good. He definitely deserves it.”

Said Realmuto: “That was an exciting inning to be a part of.”

Realmuto became the first Marlin to record five RBI in a single inning and only the second Marlins catcher (Charles Johnson did it in his rookie year in 1995) to have six in one game.

On Wednesday, Realmuto set or tied a few other franchise records as he surpassed Johnson for most hits in a season by a rookie catcher (80) and tied Benito Santiago (1993) for most triples by a catcher in a season when he got his sixth in the second inning.

Realmuto’s six triples are tied with Gordon — the speedy second baseman — for the team lead.

When asked if it was strange to be tied with a catcher in triples, Gordon laughed.

“Don’t remind me,”’ he said. “But he’s not a regular catcher. He’s fast.”

Realmuto not only played shortstop during his formative years before moving to catcher but he was also the quarterback at Carl Albert High in Midwest City and led the Titans to an Oklahoma state title.

Moving to catcher likely fast-tracked Realmuto’s journey to the majors as he made his debut with the Marlins last year.

Miami sent Realmuto to the minors to start this season, but when Jeff Mathis got hurt, they recalled him.

With Realmuto looking good behind the plate, the Marlins released veteran Jarod Saltalamacchia, and Realmuto hasn’t budged.

On Wednesday, Realmuto hinted he may give third base and the outfield a try in spring training to give his knees some rest and keep his bat in the lineup. Shortstop, he admits, is not in his future.

“This guy has the chance to be an All-Star for a long time,” manager Dan Jennings said. “He’s a tremendous athlete and has great offensive value. Every month we talk about him taking leadership of this team and running the pitching staff. He’s stepped up in a huge way.”

In 87 games this season, the 6-1, 205-pound catcher is hitting .255 with seven homers and 35 RBI.

Realmuto is hitting .389 this week.

“I’ve felt good at the plate lately,’’ said Realmuto, who came into the postgame clubhouse following his workout wearing a Mr. Miyagi-style headband made popular in the Karate Kid movies.

“You have to just take advantage of these times because when you feel hot like this, it doesn’t last long. You just have to take advantage and drive in runs, wins some games.”

COMING UP

▪ Friday: Marlins RHP Tom Koehler (8-9, 3.75 ERA) at Cardinals LHP Jaime Garcia (4-4, 1.77), 8:15 p.m., Busch Stadium.

▪ Saturday: Marlins TBA at Cardinals RHP John Lackey (9-7, 2.91), 7:15 p.m., Busch Stadium.

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