sixto sanchez

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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Countdown to Clearwater: A peek at a few Phillies prospects

Countdown to Clearwater: A peek at a few Phillies prospects

The Phillies open spring training in Clearwater, Florida next week. In preview, we take a look at five storylines:

Tuesday5 new faces to watch

Wednesday5 questions on the position side

Thursday5 questions on the pitching side

Friday — Prospects to watch

Saturday — 5 people with something to prove

It's always fun to get a peek at some of the prospects who will be in big-league camp for the first time and there are plenty worth watching over at the minor-league complex, as well. We picked out five. And, yes, Sixto Sanchez was supposed to be on the list, but he was traded in the J.T. Realmuto deal on Thursday so we'll use a pinch-hitter for him.

MICKEY MONIAK

Moniak has gotten a lot of attention since being the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 draft and now he will get some more in his first trip to big-league camp. The left-handed hitting outfielder has endured some struggles in his first 2½ seasons of pro ball, but he showed improvement in the second half of the season at Single A Clearwater last year by hitting .302 with 24 extra-base hits and an .829 OPS over his final 52 games. Moniak could open the season back in Clearwater but he will have a chance to play himself to Double A before the season is out. He's added strength to his 6-3 frame and he won't turn 21 until May. This will be a big year in gauging his development and what kind of prospect he is.

ADAM HASELEY

Haseley is another guy who has gotten a lot of attention since being selected eighth overall in the 2017 draft after a stellar three-year run at the University of Virginia. Like Moniak, he is also headed to his first big-league camp. Haseley hit .305 with 11 homers and a .795 OPS between Clearwater and Double A Reading last season. Haseley turns 23 in April and it will be interesting to see if he complements his on-base skills with more power as he matures. It's likely that will get to Triple A at some point this season. Will the Phils assign him there in April? We'll see.

EDGAR GARCIA

Last year, Seranthony Dominguez got everyone's attention during his first trip to big-league camp. In May, he was called to the majors and quickly became Gabe Kapler's favorite bullpen weapon.

Garcia might be able to make a similar rise in 2019. The 22-year-old right-hander was added to the 40-man roster in November after recording a 3.64 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP in 52 games at Double A and Triple A in 2018. In 64⅓ innings, he struck out 72 batters, walked 27 and held opposing hitters to a .206 batting average.

Like Dominguez, whose fastball can reach triple digits, Garcia has a dominant pitch — a slider that ranks among the best in the organization. Given the way the Phillies run young relievers back and forth between Triple A and the majors, it would not be surprising to see Garcia in Philadelphia at some point this season. For now, he heads to his first big-league camp.

DEIVI GRULLON and AUSTIN LISTI

Two for the price of one here. We're looking forward to seeing both of these guys swing the bat in big-league camp. Grullon profiles as the organization's Triple A catcher and he's got some power in his bat. He hit 21 homers at Double A Reading last season.

Listi, an outfielder/DH type, hit .312 with 25 doubles, 18 homers and a .915 OPS between Clearwater and Reading last season. He reached base 41 percent of the time. Listi is 25 so he needs to move quickly, but he has a very intriguing bat. A Triple A test seems likely.

SPENCER HOWARD

This guy will be in minor-league camp but he's worth checking out because of the improvement he made last season and the buzz he has created with other teams. As the Phillies probed trade markets this winter, Howard was one of the guys rival teams wanted in return and the Phils were reluctant to move him.

Howard, 22, is a 6-3, 205-pound right-hander. He was the team's second-round pick (45th overall) out of Cal-Poly San Luis Obispo in 2017. He pitched at Single A Lakewood in 2018 and had a 3.78 ERA in 23 starts. In 112 innings, he allowed 101 hits, struck out 147 and walked 40. He finished his season with a nine-strikeout, one-walk no-hitter in the South Atlantic League playoffs.

Scouts love Howard's pure "stuff." During the 2018 season, he added velocity to his fastball and reached the high-90s at times, and his slider is an excellent pitch. Over 32 pro starts, he has averaged 12 strikeouts per nine innings.

It wouldn't be surprising to see Howard tested in Double A at some point in the 2018 season.

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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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