When the Marlins introduced Jarrod Saltalamacchia on Monday afternoon at the winter meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., it signified an uncertain future for another Miami catcher.
With Saltalamacchia penciled in as the everyday starter and veteran Jeff Mathis as the backup, that leaves Rob Brantly the odd man out.
The 24-year-old, who was the club’s 2013 Opening Day backstop, will likely begin the season in Triple-A New Orleans.
“Obviously, Rob is still on the roster, part of our 40-man roster,” said Michael Hill, president of baseball operations. “He’ll come into spring training and compete. But more than likely, it means he’ll have to go back to the minor leagues and get himself ready to go and get himself ready when we ultimately need him.”
Added general manager Dan Jennings: “It may give him an opportunity to come into camp, fight for a spot. If not, he goes to Triple-A, gets some at-bats, gets to swing again and gets to refine the catching part of his game.”
Brantly, acquired in the 2012 trade that sent Anibal Sanchez to the Tigers, earned a call-up over the final two months of that season. He hit .290 with three home runs and eight RBI. He struck out 16 times and walked 13 times in 31 games.
When Miami dealt John Buck in the blockbuster trade with the Blue Jays that offseason, Brantly went from the organization’s future to starting backstop.
But much like his teammates, 2013 didn’t treat Brantly too kindly. He batted .211 with one home run and 18 RBI in 67 games. Brantly recorded nine passed balls and committed five errors. His caught-stealing clip did improve by 10 percentage points (18 to 28).
When Mathis returned from a broken collarbone, an injury that set him back two months, Brantly’s playing time diminished. Veterans Miguel Olivo and Koyie Hill took over as backups.
Instead of keeping the young player on the bench, the Marlins sent him down to the Zephyrs to get in work and develop.
“I am always working on improving my abilities as a catcher behind the plate, have a consistent stance in a good position to stick pitches and block when needed,” Brantly wrote via text. “Mathis taught me that the most consistent catchers behind the plate are the ones who earn the pitching staff’s trust the best. And that goes for consistent game calling as well.
“But I learned that, that kind of consistency comes from trusting what you know as a baseball player and not trying to overthink situations.”
Of course, things can change from the hot stove season in December to Opening Day in March. Even over the course of a 162-game schedule.
Bench coach Rob Leary, who also works with the catchers, has been in contact with Brantly since the news of Saltalamacchia’s signing broke.
“I know he’s working hard on the things we’ve talked about,” Leary said Sunday night before the winter meetings. “He’s aware of the certain things we really want to help him get better at so he can get over the hump and become a full-time major league catcher.
“We’re not forgetting about Rob Brantly and Kyle Skipworth and J.T. Realmuto. It’s our job to continue to work with them and to help them to become productive members of the Miami Marlins baseball team because we don’t know. … It would be careless to say, ‘Forget this guy and that guy.’ It takes more than 25 players over the course of the season.”