Hot take: 5 best catchers in Marlins history

March 24th, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only … if you don’t agree with the order, participate in our Twitter poll to vote for your favorite at this position.

Here is Joe Frisaro’s ranking of the top 5 catchers in Marlins history. Next week: First basemen.

1. J.T. Realmuto, 2014-18
Key facts: career 108 wRC+, .329 wOBA are the highest among Marlins catchers in history

Realmuto broke into the big leagues in 2014, and a year later, he became the regular behind the plate. In '16, he batted .303 in 137 games, and is the only everyday catcher to top .300 batting average in a season with Miami. In '18, his final season with the Marlins, Realmuto belted 21 home runs, a single-season franchise record for a catcher.

The most athletic catcher in franchise history, Realmuto’s Fangraphs WAR (fWAR) with the Marlins was 11.5 in 540 games. Charles Johnson’s fWAR was 13.9 over 587 games. A third-round pick out of Carl Albert High School in Midwest City, Okla., Jacob Tyler Realmuto opted to sign with the Marlins, turning down a football opportunity to play quarterback at Oklahoma State University.

Realmuto’s average pop time on throws to second base in 2018 was 1.90 seconds, the fastest in the Majors, per Statcast.

Realmuto was Miami’s lone All-Star in 2018.

"You could have said J.T. was All-Star-worthy with what he did at the beginning of last season, and for him to earn it this year is a great accomplishment," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said in July 2018, when Realmuto was named to his first All-Star Game. "You have heard me say that he has been one of the best catchers in the game for a while now, and for him to finally be recognized is a testament to the job he has done not just this year, but over his career."

The Marlins traded Realmuto to the Phillies on Feb. 9, 2019, in a deal that included catcher Jorge Alfaro and right-hander Sixto Sanchez, who is now Miami’s No. 1 prospect, per MLB Pipeline.

2. Charles Johnson, 1994-98; 2001-02
Key fact: Johnson’s 13.9 career fWAR is the highest among catchers in franchise history

A two-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove winner, Johnson is the greatest defensive catcher in Marlins history. From 1995-98, he won four straight Gold Glove Awards, and he’s one of three catchers in MLB history to catch at least 100 games in a season without committing an error. Johnson was behind the plate for the Marlins’ first three no-hitters -- Al Leiter (1996), Kevin Brown ('97), and A.J. Burnett (2001).

A native of Fort Pierce, Fla., Johnson attended the University of Miami, and he was the Marlins’ first-round pick in the 1992 MLB Draft.

In 1997, Johnson was a big part of the Marlins’ first World Series championship team, belting 19 home runs and earning his first All-Star Game appearance. He also finished 11th in the NL MVP voting.

Johnson returned to the Marlins in 2001 and hit 18 homers with 75 RBIs in 128 games. He closed out his second stint with the Marlins in '02, and played parts of seven seasons with the organization.

3. Ivan Rodriguez, 2003
Key fact: Elected to the Hall of Fame in 2017

When putting together an All-Time franchise list, one season might not seem like much of a sample size. But the impact Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez had on the Marlins in 2003 was significant. At the time he signed a one-year, $10 million deal with Miami, Rodriguez was already a 10-time All-Star and Gold Glove winner with the Rangers. For the Marlins, Rodriguez was a major part of their second World Series championship team. In 140 games, he had a slash line of .297/.369/.474 with 16 home runs and 85 RBIs. He had an fWAR of 4.5 that season, and was the MVP of the National League Championship Series against the Cubs. He also was involved in one of most memorable plays in franchise history, tagging out J.T. Snow on a collision at home plate to secure the Marlins’ Division Series victory over the Giants.

4. Benito Santiago, 1993-94
Key facts: NL Rookie of the Year in 1987, five-time All-Star

On April 5, 1993, Charlie Hough fluttered a knuckleball to home plate against the Dodgers. It was the first pitch in Marlins history. Behind the plate that day was Benito Santiago, then 28 and by that time an established big league veteran previously with the Padres. Santiago caught two seasons with the Marlins, before being replaced by Johnson. In ’93, Santiago started 125 games at catcher, and hit 13 home runs with 50 RBIs. The next season, his last with the then-Florida Marlins, he hit .273 in 101 games.

5. Mike Redmond, 1998-2004
Key fact: Redmond is the only person to play for and manage the Marlins

Having Redmond on this list is based on his leadership and longevity, because in his seven seasons with the Marlins, he was primarily a backup who never played in more than 88 games. But his presence in the dugout and clubhouse was huge. The consummate team player, Redmond was part of the 1998 rebuilding Marlins, which lost 108 games. From there, he experienced the team high of winning the World Series in 2003. He also crushed left-handed pitching, boasting a .438 (21-for-48) career batting average vs. Hall of Famer Tom Glavine. Redmond managed the Marlins from 2013-15.

Honorable mentions
Miguel Olivo appeared in 282 games with the Marlins, and had 36 total home runs, which is third most for catchers in franchise history. In 2006, he caught Anibal Sanchez’s no-hitter against the D-backs. … John Baker, in 212 games with the Marlins, had a slash line of .271/.356/.401. Multiple right elbow surgeries in 2010 hurt his longevity. … Paul Lo Duca, acquired midseason in 2004 from the Dodgers, made a dramatic debut with the Marlins, delivering a pinch-hit home run in his first at-bat after the trade. He appeared in 205 games for the Marlins, hitting .277.