Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez played only one season in south Florida, but what a season it was. The play at the plate in the NLDS against the Giants in 2003 will be forever immortalized in Marlins history. He ended the regular season with a .297 batting average, 16 home runs and 85 RBIs. He won a World Series ring, then, he was gone.
The Marlins are still looking for his true successor to this day. The likes of Paul Lo Duca, Miguel Olivo and John Baker put in decent stints with the Fish, but all failed to fully fill the shoes of the future hall of famer. The last two major backstop investments, John Buck and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, both turned out to be costly mistakes by the franchise. The latter was released this week after only 29 at-bats in 2015.
The move came after a very interesting turn of events: the emergence of a possible long-term solution behind the plate. That possible solution is J.T. Realmuto. The 24 year-old was the Marlins' number two prospect to start the season after hitting .299 en route to a championship at Double-A Jacksonville last season. He was called up very early this season after Jeff Mathis sustained a hand injury.
Saltalamacchia was struggling and Realmuto replaced him in the lineup for a few games in Atlanta. The young battery impressed at and behind the plate, and the rest is history. J.T. Realmuto is young, talented and he has a lot of potential. Catchers, arguably, have the hardest adjustment when they reach the major leagues as they have to learn their pitchers and all of the opposing hitters the team will face.
Realmuto seems to have taken the challenges that major league baseball presents in his stride. Not only has he had success himself, but the entire team has improved since he has become the starting catcher. Marlins TV announcer Tommy Hutton agrues that winning starts with pitching and defense. Realmuto has had a direct impact on both of these factors. Jarrod Saltalamacchia committed 15 errors last year and had already committed two errors in nine games in 2015. Since taking over, Realmuto is error-free in 15 games so far this year.
The starting pitching has also become more effective in the last couple of weeks. Pitchers have raved about Realmuto's leadership and decsion-making behind the plate, and they like throwing to him. Coincidentally, former teammates have spoken out about how they disliked throwing to Saltalamacchia. Whatever the reason, the Marlins' starters are feeling more comfortable on the mound, and that can only be a good thing moving forward.
So far, there isn't a large enough sample size to deem J.T. Realmuto the "catcher of the future" for the Marlins. However, the results are encouraging. The Fish haven't had such a talented 24 year-old behind the plate since Charles Johnson. If the Marlins have another Charles Johnson on their hands, then the future of baseball in Miami looks very bright indeed.