If Rob Brantly's bat develops as the optimistic view expects, he should get lots of chances to celebrate in 2013. - Greg Fiume
The Miami Marlins have to be optimistic about their current catching prospect Rob Brantly, who has the best offensive tools of a Marlins prospect catcher since Charles Johnson. With proper development, he should find success in 2013.
The Miami Marlins will have to depend on a number of young players to carry them past the sure-to-be horrific 2013 season and into their future competitive campaigns. If the club has any shot at being a contender in the years to come, it is going to come down to getting some good contributions from a few of the remaining players from the 2013 roster. A number of young players acquired in recent trades will play a big role in whether the Fish have a supporting core to surround Jose Fernandez and Christian Yelich.
One of those players is Rob Brantly, and the optimist in me says that Brantly has a very good chance of showing those signs this upcoming season. He has a full year to prove himself as the starting catcher, away from anything but a limited platoon situation with the eminently replaceable Jeff Mathis. With the skills that Brantly has shown thus far, it is easy to imagine him developing into the team's future at catcher.
The Optimist's Case
The case for optimism in dealing with Rob Brantly is based on an understanding of his set of tools and how well it translated to the majors in 2013. In terms of peripherals, his minor league numbers and major league performance seem to match up decently.
These numbers do not drastically differ from his career numbers. Sure, the BABIP marks may simply be some inflation of his likely skill, but one of Brantly's best tools is his hit tool, encompassing both his contact and his ability to drive balls for base hits. His contact seems to have remained intact based on his strikeout rate, as it climbed only slightly from his career minor league numbers. His BABIP could easily see regression back down to around .300 and he would still be an acceptable hitter; had Brantly hit .300 on balls in play last season, his line would have translated to a .270 batting average and a .440 slugging percentage.
The above explains how well Brantly's tools have translated to the big league level, but it does not also describe how well some of his other, more questionable tools developed as well. Particularly intriguing for the Marlins is his power production at the position. Brantly hit three home runs after hitting just five in 388 minor league plate appearances in 2012. He also hit eight doubles in his 113 plate appearances. The Marlins may not have acquired Brantly with the thought that he was likely to put up strong power numbers, but he happened to do just that.
The best part about Brantly's power numbers is that it is not entirely out of the realm of possibility to believe them. While the numbers may not remain as strong as they were last season, they could still reach a reasonable .150 ISO mark based on a natural development of Brantly's hit tool. Marlins Park is not designed for allowing home runs, but its power alleys are large and spacious, and these characteristics fit a line-drive contact hitter like Brantly nicely. If he continues to square up balls well, it is not difficult to imagine 25 to 30 doubles along with the occasional drive out of the park from a player who is still just 23 years old. With his best tool and the home stadium's best offensive aspect on his side, Brantly's bat could start shining in 2013.
A Marlins Historic Comparison
The last time the Marlins had such a positive contribution from their catching position was when they brought up the then 27-year-old John Baker to the majors for a brief stint in 2008. He began as a part-timer in 2008 and went on to take on the majority platoon role with Ronny Paulino, and the lefty Baker ran with it for a year and a half.
Baker and Brantly had very similar numbers overall, and Baker did this with more assistance from BABIP (.344 in two seasons) thanks to a high strikeout rate (20.9 percent). Brantly can afford to put up similar numbers, including in the power department, with better tools and less luck involvement thanks to his ability to put the ball in play more consistently.
Obviously, Baker put up these numbers with the platoon advantage almost entirely on his side, as he rarely faced lefty pitchers. Brantly will not likely get that same luxury with only Jeff Mathis behind him, but even if he only comes close to Baker's 2009 numbers, he should be more than a good contributor offensively for a Marlins team that could desperately use some silver linings.
The Optimist's Projection
The projection for Brantly has to be fairly bright heading into 2013 given his strong debut. If you take a reasonable .300 BABIP and a reasonable power output for him next season that includes a 13-home run campaign, you could expect a .321 wOBA from Brantly next season. Given his defensive shortcomings, that might be worth 2.4 wins in 500 plate appearances in 2013. If he can produce that sort of outcome in just his second season in the majors, the Marlins should feel confident about having their future catcher for at least another four or five years.