MIAMI -- In J.T. Realmuto, the Marlins believe they have a cornerstone player and a future All-Star. He is one of the most athletic catchers in the Majors, and he's an emerging leader on a team that hopes to be in postseason contention in 2017.
To maximize Realmuto's skill set, Miami is considering giving the 25-year-old some action at first base, primarily against tough left-handers. This will create more opportunities to keep Realmuto's bat in the lineup, and it'll reduce his daily grind behind the plate. The Giants have been doing this with Buster Posey, their All-Star catcher, for years.
Realmuto, a shortstop in high school, has the athleticism to learn first base. Still, there is some risk because he has never played the position, and he still is refining his defensive skills as a catcher.
In the meantime, the Marlins are continuing to explore the market for first-base options to back up left-handed-hitting Justin Bour. Although Miami is considering using Bour more against southpaws, free-agent pickup A.J. Ellis could catch on days when Realmuto is at first base.
"There's not that clear-cut complement at first base," president of baseball operations Michael Hill said recently. "With the addition of A.J. Ellis, we may look to get J.T. off of his knees and out of the crouch a little bit. So there is some flexibility there."
It's easy to see why the Marlins are trying to create as much flexibility with Realmuto as possible. If he plays some first base, he would have the benefit of working with infield coach Perry Hill, widely regarded as one of the top instructors in the game.
Realmuto's 2016 slash line was .303/.343/.428 with 11 home runs, 31 doubles and 48 RBIs. His Fangraphs WAR of 3.5 was tied with Wilson Ramos for third highest among all MLB catchers. Realmuto paced his position with 12 stolen bases and a .357 BABIP.
At this stage of his career, Realmuto is holding up physically. But wear and tear is also a concern with catchers. In 2016, he caught 1,113 innings, second in the Majors to St. Louis' Yadier Molina (1,218 1/3). Realmuto played in 137 games and had 545 plate appearances.
The Giants, meanwhile, used first base as a way to help preserve Posey. The veteran, who had a 4.0 fWAR, caught 123 games (1,069 2/3 innings) and appeared in 15 (98 innings) at first base. Posey ended the season with 614 plate appearances.
The downside is whether too much will be on Realmuto's plate. Would the time learning to play first base hurt his development as a catcher?
Framing pitches already is an area Realmuto is striving to improve. According to Baseball Prospectus, the Miami catcher was at minus-13.5 in framing in 2016, slightly better than his minus-15.7 in '15.
The Marlins open Spring Training on Feb. 14, which will provide some answers to see if the transition is worth pursuing.