jorge alfaro

J.T. Realmuto hustles to Clearwater, can't wait to hit in Philly

J.T. Realmuto hustles to Clearwater, can't wait to hit in Philly

CLEARWATER, Fla. — J.T. Realmuto knew he was going somewhere. So, back home in Oklahoma City, he and his wife packed their bags last week and waited for the phone call that would tell them which way to start driving.

"We didn't want to head to Florida and get traded to [a team that trains in] Arizona," he said with a laugh.

The call came Thursday afternoon. Realmuto had been traded to the Phillies. Go east, young man, you've become the latest star player to escape the rebuilding Miami Marlins.

Realmuto wasted no time joining his new team. He and his wife, Lexi, and infant daughter, Grace, drove through the night Thursday and arrived in Clearwater late Friday afternoon. Pitchers and catchers will go through their first official workout of the spring on Wednesday. Realmuto joined the gang of earlier arrivers for a workout on Saturday morning and has already caught one of Aaron Nola's bullpen sessions.

"This is definitely an organization that I'm proud to play for and I'm happy to be here," he said Tuesday.

Realmuto, who turns 28 in March, is widely hailed as the best catcher in baseball. He made his first All-Star team last season but finished in last place with a stripped-down Marlins team that is still in the early stages of a rebuild. Realmuto saw some of his teammates, including eventual NL MVP Christian Yelich, get traded away last winter and made it known to Marlins officials that he wanted to be dealt to a team with a chance to win. It took the entire offseason and a lot of rumors du jour, but he got his wish.

"It was definitely a different offseason for me and my wife," he said. "We spent more time on social media than we ever have in our lives, just trying to find out if anybody knows any scoop that we didn't know. It was a little stressful, a little different for us, but we're definitely happy with the outcome."

And he's happy he won't be playing half his games in spacious Marlins Park anymore. Realmuto hit .277 with 30 doubles, 21 homers, 74 RBIs and an .825 OPS for the Marlins last season. He did much of his damage on the road, where his OPS was .870, compared to .773 at home.

Over his career, he has hit .309 with a .848 OPS in 280 games on the road and .245 with a .678 OPS in 260 games in Marlins Park.

"It's definitely tough," he said. "I can count too many times that I felt like I crushed a ball in Marlins Park only to watch Odubel Herrera dive in center field and catch it at the wall. So it will be nice to get out of there and — not that Citizens Bank Park is any slouch, you still have to hit the ball well, but it will be nice knowing if you get a ball, you have a chance of getting it out. In Marlins Park, sometimes you felt like you got all of it and you were flying out to center field, not even getting a double out of it. You were running back to the dugout. So it will be nice to not have that situation.

"I felt like some of my issues in Marlins Park were that I knew it was so big and sometimes maybe I tried to do a little too much and got out of my strengths. I'd muscle up and try to hit the ball too far, which over time can really create problems. I think just being able to play in a park that is more hitter-friendly will give me more confidence and I'll try not to do too much and just take things as they come and that will help me out tremendously."

As a visitor to Citizens Bank Park, Realmuto hit .282 with eight doubles, four homers, 13 RBIs and a .788 OPS in 28 games.

Phillies officials believe Realmuto will have as much impact on the team's pitching and defense as he does on the offense. Last week, GM Matt Klentak mentioned that Realmuto's blocking ability would give pitchers confidence to try to get hitters to chase balls in the dirt. Ask Brad Lidge how important that is. He always knew Carlos Ruiz would block his dirt-diving sliders.

"I've definitely studied all of them multiple times just by facing them," Realmuto said of the Phillies pitchers. "There's a lot of great arms on this team, a lot of young guys with electric stuff, guys that are getting better. From top to bottom, this entire rotation has quality, plus stuff and they've all gotten better. I look forward to helping them continue their improvement."

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A closer look at what makes J.T. Realmuto the best catcher in baseball

A closer look at what makes J.T. Realmuto the best catcher in baseball

J.T. Realmuto has been a Phillie for one day and you've probably already heard a few dozen times that he's the best catcher in baseball.

In a column in support of the trade Thursday, I referred to Realmuto as the only catcher in baseball you could argue possesses all five tools.

Let's elaborate ...

Receiving and blocking the ball

This feels like the right place to start, given Jorge Alfaro's glaring deficiencies catching the baseball in 2018. 

Realmuto blocked 90.5 percent of potential wild pitches last season, according to Sports Info Solutions.

Alfaro blocked 86.5 percent. 

May sound like an insignificant difference, but Alfaro's rate was the worst among all major-league catchers. And truthfully, the percentage could've been even lower considering some of the balls Alfaro missed weren't even potential wild pitches.

In terms of runs saved by blocking balls, Realmuto ranked ninth among all big-league catchers with at least 3,000 chances last season.

Alfaro ranked 112th out of 115 catchers.

Arm strength

Alfaro's arm was the strongest among all MLB catchers last season, per Statcast, at 90.8 mph. 

Realmuto ranked second at 87.8 mph.

In 2016 and 2017, Realmuto ranked third. In 2015, he ranked first. There is a large sample size of Realmuto's arm strength being among the best in baseball, if not the best.

Throwing out runners

"Pop time" is a crucial stat for catchers. It measures, in seconds, how quickly the catcher releases the ball on a stolen base attempt. 

The MLB average pop time is 2.01 seconds.

In 2018, Realmuto had the best pop time in baseball: 1.90 seconds.

Alfaro ranked third at 1.94. 

In 2016 and 2017, Realmuto ranked second-best in pop time with the same mark of 1.90 seconds.

Realmuto's exchange — how quickly the ball transfers from his mitt to his throwing arm on a stolen base attempt — is also among the best in baseball. The MLB average time hovers around 0.85 seconds. Realmuto ranked fourth at 0.68 seconds; Alfaro was 17th at 0.73 seconds.

Speed

Realmuto has graded out as MLB's fastest catcher four years in a row. 

The MLB average sprint speed on a competitive play is 27 feet per second. Among catchers, who are obviously slower, it's 25 feet per second.

Realmuto has been between 28.6 and 28.8 feet per second every year since 2015.

Offense

Offensively, you don't need to dig too deep to see why Realmuto is an elite option. 

Over the last three seasons, despite playing in a gigantic, pitcher-friendly ballpark and with little lineup protection around him, Realmuto hit .286/.338/.454. 

He had a .792 OPS. The MLB average OPS for catchers during the same time frame was .699.

Realmuto's batting average was 57 points higher than the average catcher.

His OBP was 30 points higher.

His slugging percentage was 63 points higher.

Where Alfaro had the edge

The only category in which Alfaro was superior to Realmuto in 2018 was with pitch-framing. Alfaro graded out as a top-five pitch-framer. However, Alfaro's focus on catching the ball perfectly prevented him from catching it cleanly many times. That was the trade-off.

The Phillies worked tirelessly to develop Alfaro into an upper echelon pitch-framer. They should be able to do something similar with Realmuto, who doesn't lack any of Alfaro's tools.

If Realmuto's pitch-framing improves in 2019, the gap between he and Alfaro could grow from about a 2.5-win difference to closer to 4.0 wins. 

For a team in the Phillies' position, a team on the precipice of contention, every additional win carries great importance.

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Now with J.T. Realmuto, it's been a good winter for Phillies — and it can still get better

Now with J.T. Realmuto, it's been a good winter for Phillies — and it can still get better

The Phillies continue to make improvements to their roster and they haven’t even spent stupid money yet.

Six days before the first workout of the spring for pitchers and catchers, the team on Thursday acquired J.T. Realmuto from the Miami Marlins for three players and international signing bonus money (see story).

Phillies general manager Matt Klentak offered his immediate take on the deal.

“J.T. Realmuto is the best catcher in baseball,” he said. “This is about us getting better and we believe it improves us considerably.”

The Phillies sent catcher Jorge Alfaro and pitching prospects Sixto Sanchez and Will Stewart to Miami. The loss of Sanchez stings, but you have to give something to get something (see story). The 20-year-old right-hander had been considered the Phillies’ top pitching prospect for his power arm and uncanny control, but he was limited to just eight starts at the Class A level last season because of an elbow injury and there is some thought in the scouting community that he may one day end up in the bullpen.

Instead of rolling the dice on Sanchez’s potential, the Phillies went for an established major-league difference-maker who plays a premium position. It is a sound move, especially for an improving team that hasn’t been to the postseason since 2011 and needs to make the town crackle with baseball excitement again. On top of it all, the Phillies were able to get the deal to the finish line without adding one of their top prospects as the third man.

“It’s hard to acquire top players at any position, especially catcher,” Klentak said.

The GM, entering his fourth season with the Phils, has had a very good winter. He was able to move Carlos Santana in a deal that, one, allowed Rhys Hoskins to get back to first base and, two, upgraded the shortstop position with the addition of Jean Segura. He replaced Santana’s on-base skills with outfielder Andrew McCutchen’s 30-double, 20-homer pedigree, and brought in David Robertson, one of the game’s most consistent late-game relievers.

Klentak’s winter could go from very good to out-freaking-standing if he can spend some of John Middleton’s stupid money on Manny Machado or Bryce Harper. The Phils are in on both of those mega free agents. The field of bidders is small and the Phillies have deep pockets. The conventional wisdom is the Phillies will get one of them if they stay the course.

First and foremost, Machado and Harper are looking for dollar signs, lots of them, but wins mean something, too. Surely, they noticed that the Phillies got better with the signing of Realmuto.

“This is another acquisition that demonstrates our commitment to winning and I hope that demonstration would be appealing to free agents,” Klentak said.

Realmuto, who turns 28 in March, will make $5.9 million in 2019. He won’t be a free agent until after 2020. The Phillies did not explore a contract extension during negotiations with the Marlins, but Klentak said they might at some point.

“I think it’s a good idea to date the person before you ask to marry him,” Klentak said. “But we have every reason to believe this is the type of person we want to represent the Phillies.”

Realmuto is considered an excellent handler of pitchers.

“I’ve received so many calls and texts the last couple of hours from people who’ve been around him,” Klentak said. “They’ve talked about how much confidence pitchers have in him, how much confidence they have that they can throw the ball in the dirt because they know he’ll block it. He will have a really big impact on our group.”

He will also have a big impact on a Phillies’ offense that was inconsistent last season. Realmuto hit .277 with 30 doubles, 21 homers, 74 RBIs and an .825 OPS for the Marlins last season. And he did much of his damage on the road, away from cavernous Marlins Park. His road OPS last season was .870, compared to .773 at home. Over his career, he has hit .309 with a .848 OPS in 280 games on the road and .245 with a .678 OPS in 260 games in Marlins Park. He could conceivably hit second in the Phillies' lineup and he should love the results he gets in hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park.

“I’d be lying if I told you we didn’t think playing half his games in Citizens Bank Park would make him better,” Klentak said.

The Phillies will introduce Realmuto at a news conference in Clearwater on Tuesday.

And, who knows, maybe they can keep the dais erected for another big unveiling in the days after that. The Phillies have had a good winter and it still might get better.

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