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Southern notes: Realmuto makes a plan

Jacksonville backstop forging bonds with prospect-filled pitching staff
May 13, 2014

With the Jacksonville Suns' pitching staff laden with top prospects, it wouldn't be surprising if the catcher drew only minimal attention. J.T. Realmuto has made that impossible, though.

Though some of the Jacksonville pitchers have had early-season struggles, Realmuto is off to a hot start at the plate.

"I've been a slow starter, so it's nice to be able to look at your average and know you don't have to dig out of a big hole all season," the 23-year-old Oklahoma native said.

Realmuto was the Southern League's second Player of the Week this season after putting together five multi-hit games out of six and going 12-for-24 with seven RBIs and 10 runs scored. The right-handed hitter finished April at .300 and was hitting .295 through 28 games with a .361 on-base percentage and .486 slugging mark.

Realmuto had driven in 19 runs and scored 21 while hitting seven doubles, two triples and three homers. He'd drawn 11 walks compared to 14 strikeouts and even stolen five bases.

Those are impressive numbers, especially for a catcher.

Realmuto was a hitter of renown in high school, batting .595 with 28 homers and a national-record 118 RBIs as a senior in Midwest City, Okla.

His bat had cooled considerably the past two season in the Minors, though, as he batted .256 with Class A Advanced Jupiter and then .239 in his first year in Double-A with Jacksonville.

"A catcher can't be thinking about hitting as much as other players," Realmuto said. "It's not your priority."

Putting defense first is especially true if you are still relatively new to being behind the plate.

Realmuto was primarily a shortstop in high school, but the Marlins happened to scout one game were he was filling in at catcher and liked his raw potential.

Miami took Realmuto in the third round of the 2010 Draft, signed him for a $600,000 bonus and immediately moved him behind the plate.

Some parts of the job came naturally to Realmuto, who has a strong arm and quick feet. Others didn't.

"Blocking [pitches in the dirt] was the hardest," he said. "I'm still working hard on that."

Realmuto has thrown out 37 percent of would-be base stealers this season and has only two passed balls.

Marlins top prospect Andrew Heaney, ranked No. 27 on's Top 100, was Southern League Pitcher of the Week the same time Realmuto won Player of the Week and the left-hander heads Jacksonville's promising pitching staff.

"[Realmuto] has a plan for everyone who comes up," Heaney told following a stellar start last month. "I don't shake him off too often. ... He knows how I like to pitch. He uses what he knows with my strengths and what I like to do."

The rest of the Suns rotation is Justin Nicolino, the Marlins' No. 4 prospect, sixth-rated Anthony DeSclafani, No. 8 Jose Urena and No. 16 Angel Sanchez.

Realmuto is ranked No. 9 in the Marlins system, behind four of the starters he catches.

Handling those pitchers remains Realmuto's priority.

"A catcher and a pitcher have to have a special bond," he said. "If I'm fortunate enough to catch them in the Majors, I want to make sure they have confidence in me."

The Marlins once had a hole to fill behind the plate, but that was taken care of when 28-year-old Jarrod Saltalamacchia was lured from the Boston Red Sox with a three-year, $21 million contract as a free agent.

"You can't think too much about the future," said Realmuto, who is 4-for-16 with a homer and five RBIs over three Spring Trainings with the Marlins. "You have to have confidence that, when you're ready for the Majors, there will be a spot for you somewhere, hopefully as a regular."

In brief

Impressive return: Tennessee outfielder Jorge Soler had two doubles and four RBIs in the Smokies' 17-13 victory at Jackson on May 11, capping an impressive first four games off the disabled list. The 22-year-old Cuban was 6-for-16 with five doubles and seven RBIs. Soler, the Chicago Cubs' No. 5 prospect and No. 45 in's Top 100, missed a month after straining a hamstring running out a double in his first at-bat of the season. He also missed the second half of last season with Class A Advanced Daytona because of a stress fracture in his left tibia.

Feeble start: The Los Angeles Dodgers gave Cuban shortstop Erisbel Arruebarrena a five-year, $25 million contract because of his defense, but they certainly expected more offense than he's shown for Chattanooga. The 24-year-old former regular for the Cuban national team hit just .143 in his first 19 games for the Lookouts and had 23 strikeouts to three walks with only four extra-base hits. Arruebarrena has struggled even more in May than April, with just three hits in 30 at-bats.

Little reward: Mississippi right-hander Williams Perez was third in the Southern League with a 1.50 ERA but had just a 2-3 record after seven starts. He pitched 7 2/3 scoreless innings against Mobile on May 8 only to get a no-decision. The native of Venezuela had allowed just three hits over seven innings in his two prior starts and lost both. Perez, who turns 23 on May 21, has walked just 11 in 42 innings and was limiting opposing hitters to a .205 average.

Guy Curtright is a contributor to