The Miami Marlins promoted catching prospect Jacob "J.T." Realmuto to the major leagues last week. This was easy to miss due to all the attention surrounding the 2014 draft, so let's remedy that and take a look at Realmuto as today's Prospect of the Day.
Realmuto was drafted by the Marlins in the third round in 2010, from high school in Midwest City, Oklahoma. A high school star as a quarterback and a shortstop, he had a scholarship to Oklahoma State University and wasn't a cheap sign, his $600,000 bonus almost double what was normal for that round.
The Marlins moved Realmuto behind the plate, using him as a catcher to take advantage of his athleticism, leadership skills, and arm strength. He took to catching well, immediately throwing out 42% of runners in his first year in 2011 and maintaining a 39% percentage for his career thus far. He's steadily refined his blocking and receiving skills, lowering his error and passed ball rates, to the point that his defense is his best overall asset.
Realmuto was a monster hitter in high school, hitting .595 with 28 homers his senior year, but that hasn't translated to pro ball. He got off to a good start with a .287/.347/.454 line in Low-A in '11, but his production in '12 (.256/.319/.345 in High-A) and '13 (.239/.310/.353 in Double-A) was much less impressive. His eye for the strike zone was fairly good but his swing didn't translate his strength into power.
2014 has been much better: .301/.364/.503 in 46 games in Double-A. Yes, he was repeating the league, but the enhanced power was good to see.
I had Realmuto rated as a Grade C+ pre-season, optimistic that his valuable defense would give him a big league career, but uncertain if his hitting would be good enough for him to start. I'm still not certain about the bat to be honest, but there are reasons for some optimism. Even when he was struggling to drive the ball earlier in his career, he still made contact and wasn't over-matched with the strike zone. Swing adjustments and physical maturity can result in breakouts in such cases.
Catchers have unusual development curves but sometimes that actually works in their favor.