Marlins' Ignoffo catching on in new role

June 9th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Christina De Nicola's Marlins Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

MIAMI -- Since Shohei Ohtani’s emergence, two-way players have begun to sprout up a bit more in professional baseball.

With their 20th-round selection in the 2023 MLB Draft, the Marlins took their chance on one by using their last pick on Eastern Illinois University’s Ryan Ignoffo.

When Ignoffo opened his pro career between the Rookie-level Florida Complex League Marlins and High-A Beloit, however, he bounced around in a utility role. Sky Carp then-defensive coach Chris Briones teased him daily about being a catcher, and then about three weeks after the season ended, Ignoffo received a call from director of Minor League operations Hector Crespo about the idea of becoming a backstop.

“We felt to get the most impact out of him and kind of seeing what his future value was, [we wanted] to see what it looked like behind the plate. And it's been really cool to see him and his development going into the offseason to Spring Training to now, just to see the growth,” Crespo said. “Not only obviously defensively, but offensively. He's been our best offensive performer there in Jupiter, so he's playing really well, and he's taken to catching probably a little faster than we initially thought.”

Ignoffo had gone from thinking he might get a chance to throw bullpen sessions early in spring camp to learning a new position. It was one he had only tried in the fall of his freshman year of college.

The 23-year-old Ignoffo, who isn’t ranked among MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 Marlins prospects, joins Bennett Hostetler (18th-rounder in 2021) as a recent Miami Draft pick to make the transition. When Ignoffo spoke to Hostetler, two things stood out: the amount of fatigue early on before adjusting to the grind, and the importance of being strong and flexible behind the dish.

Ignoffo was all-in. He studied video of D-backs catcher Gabriel Moreno for the catch-and-throw element, and Orioles All-Star Adley Rutschman for his ability to control the game and earn the trust of his pitching staff.

“I think me being a pitcher, even last year was my last year on the mound, it gives me a pretty good feel on how to attack hitters, because I didn't have the stuff Noble [Meyer] or [Thomas] White did, but I knew how to get guys out with the stuff that I had that day, even though it might not be the best,” Ignoffo said. “So when it comes to a guy who kind of might not have feel for a certain pitch, I can kind of get him in the zone and get him to relax.”

Crespo and the rest of the development staff have been pleasantly surprised by how easy the transition has looked. They sent Ignoffo down a level from Beloit to Single-A Jupiter since he’s a first-time catcher, which often meant pairing him up with the recently promoted Meyer and White.

Ignoffo catches between four and five games a week, and he serves as the designated hitter in the other contests. An exercise science major in college, he works with the trainers to make sure his legs stay underneath him. The biggest learning curve has been blocking and getting to know pitch shapes. The language barrier with the Spanish-speaking pitchers has been another challenge.

Despite the taxing nature of the new position, Ignoffo’s offense hasn’t taken a dip. In a pitcher-friendly league, his numbers stand out: .324/.407/.434 with eight doubles, one triple, two homers, 19 RBIs and 13 steals in 42 games. He walks (21) more than he strikes out (17). Ignoffo entered Sunday riding a 13-game hitting streak.

If Ignoffo keeps up this pace, it won’t be much longer until he returns to Beloit … this time, as a catcher.

“I think I just want to continue to improve on controlling the game and slowing it down and making sure the guys are competing with the stuff that they've got,” Ignoffo said. “… And aside from that, I think just getting the reps. I feel like I'm in a really good spot for just starting out, and I believe I can be a very, very high-level catcher if I just stick to the track that I'm on. ... [I need to keep] putting in the work every day, and just believing in my coaches who've been working with me, and then the staff that I have.”

Here are some of the other top performers at each full-season affiliate:

Triple-A Jacksonville: SS (No. 17 prospect)
The 21-year-old has three consecutive multihit games, going 6-for-13 (.462) with four runs, one double, one homer, one walk, no strikeouts and two RBIs during that span. Outfielder Griffin Conine (not ranked in the Top 30) has gone deep in three of his past four games, tallying six runs, five walks, one double and six RBIs in that stretch.

Double-A Pensacola: C (No. 26)
Mack, 21, has homered in four consecutive games, batting 7-for-13 (.538) with seven runs, one double, four homers, five RBIs and three walks during this stretch.

High-A Beloit: RHP Josh Ekness (NR)
The 22-year-old Ekness hasn’t allowed an earned run in six consecutive appearances, striking out 12 and walking three with just four hits -- all singles -- in 7 2/3 innings.