J.T. Realmuto is going into the framing business.
No, the young catcher for the Marlins isn’t giving up his baseball career.
But Realmuto is learning how to better frame pitches, a catching fine point that was the one glaring flaw in an otherwise strong rookie season for the 24-year-old Oklahoman.
Based on the metrics, Realmuto was the worst catcher in the majors at framing pitches — the ability to deliver extra strikes for pitchers by the manner in which he catches the ball — and it cost the Marlins about 1 1/2 wins.
“That’s been our main focus this spring,” Realmuto said. “I never had any problems with that my whole career in the minor leagues. I know I can receive. But there’s a couple of kinks, a couple of bad hits I created last year that we’re working to correct.”
To that end, the Marlins hired former major league backstop Brian Schneider to be the team’s first-ever catching coach. Schneider managed at Single A Jupiter last season.
“We just wanted to have a complete staff and have every area of expertise covered,” said Michael Hill, Marlins president of baseball operations. “You have an outfield guy. You have an infield guy.”
With the up-and-coming Realmuto, they figured they needed a catching guy, too.
Realmuto was drafted out of high school in 2010 as an infielder and converted immediately into a catcher. Not only hasn’t Realmuto had a lot of time at the position, but he also rose so quickly through the system that when the Marlins gave up on Jarrod Saltalamacchia early last season and Jeff Mathis went on the disabled list with a broken hand, the emergency call went out for Realmuto.
“He was thrown into the fire,” Schneider said. “But you learn a lot about yourself when you’re thrown into the fire, and it’s only going to make him a better player in the end.”
I want to hit for more power. I’d like to get 15, 20 home runs. I want to steal more bags. I definitely want to walk more.
Realmuto ended up catching 118 games and, in most aspects, enjoyed what was a successful season, hitting .259 with 10 homers and posting the best average “pop time” — the time it takes him to throw the ball to second — of any catcher in the majors.
His athleticism also gave him an added dimension most catchers don’t have: speed. Realmuto beat out 19 infield hits, stole eight bases and finished with seven triples, only one fewer than Dee Gordon’s team-leading eight.
“He’s an unbelievable athlete,” Schneider said. “He’s got the makeup, the body — all the intangibles, that stuff you can’t teach.”
Schneider said Realmuto is on the cusp of being one of the best catchers in the majors.
“There’s no doubt in my mind he’ll be an All-Star here soon,” Schneider said. “He’s a keeper. He’s going to be good.”
Realmuto figures he has plenty of room for improvement.
“From an overall standpoint, I felt like I held my own,” Realmuto said of his rookie season. “But I want to hit for more power. I’d like to get 15, 20 home runs. I want to steal more bags. I definitely want to walk more.”
But the big thing Realmuto wants to improve on is framing pitches, keeping strikes from becoming balls. And he thinks he’s discovered the problem.
“It was pre-pitch stuff,” Realmuto said. “I’d be in the wrong position to start [with the mitt], and it would be hard to catch up because I was starting in the wrong place. It was moving in the wrong direction. It was something I could see on film.”
Said Schneider: “He had a little too much movement. He’s a converted shortstop, and shortstops are always moving coming into the play. So we’re trying to quiet that down and allow the good hands he has to catch the ball and be a lot better framer.
“I think people are making a big deal about the framing. But he does so many other things well. He is an all-around good catcher. He can just be a better one.”