'All I want to do is win': Banfield eager for chance in Majors

March 1st, 2024

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Whether , Miami’s No. 26 prospect per MLB Pipeline, can break camp with the Marlins as their backup catcher and make the jump from Double-A Pensacola to the Majors remains to be seen.

But one thing is for certain: Banfield, who caught the final four innings of the Marlins’ 6-6 tie with the Phillies on Friday, has grabbed manager Skip Schumaker’s attention.

“Banfield, we love,” Schumaker said. “He’s been great. Definitely has the leadership quality to be a Major League catcher. He’s as good as anybody, and is becoming a good hitter. Last year was a major step for him in the right direction with power and understanding how to hit.

“Yeah, he’ll be knocking on the door -- no doubt.”

Banfield, 24, hit .258 with 25 doubles, 23 homers and 76 RBIs last year. It was a huge power surge for Banfield, who had a combined 29 homers over his four previous Minor League seasons, and it showed that he could be more than just a strong defensive catcher.

When Schumaker’s comments were repeated for Banfield, he responded, “Oh, that’s awesome. That’s all I want to do -- putting everything I have on the field. If somebody can see that, then that’s the biggest compliment to me. I really appreciate that from Skip.

“I go out there and put in the work behind [closed] doors, and behind the scenes [to] put myself in the best position to give it all out on the field. To have that recognition from him means a lot.”

Those leadership qualities bode well for him.

“I’ve had a lot of great people around me growing up in baseball,” said Banfield, drafted 69th overall in the 2018 Draft out of Brookwood High in Snellville, Ga. “I’d say it all starts with my mom. She’s the biggest part of my life. She’s my rock.”

Will Banfield with his mother, Christy, with the Double-A Pensacola Blue Wahoos in 2023.

Christy Banfield and Will’s father, William Frank Banfield IV, are divorced, but each has had a big impact on their son.

“The sacrifices that she’s given and the woman that she is now – I’m so blessed to have a mom like that,” Banfield told MLB.com. “So, it started from her. She obviously brought me up and showed me how to be a great man, and a great human being. So, that’s really my biggest thing that I wanted to do in life – just be happy and try to make people smile.

“And to come in here every day on the field, and give it my all.”

Both parents also live near Banfield’s high school, located just east of Atlanta.

“My dad, too, obviously taught me baseball,” said Banfield. “Brought me up into baseball at a young age.”

He also credited his high school coach Titus Martin for teaching him how to be a good teammate who became a leader. Chris Briones, the Marlins' player development coach, “has helped [him] progress” in the Minors, Banfield said.

Great defense and leadership should be able to eventually get Banfield to the Majors. But staying with the Marlins to someday become an everyday starter will depend on his bat. Cutting down on the 122 strikeouts in 458 at-bats from 2023 also is important.

Banfield is batting .333 with two walks in four Grapefruit League games this spring, and he has yet to strike out in seven at-bats. He got behind, 0-2, in the count on his second at-bat against the Phillies, but took a low breaking ball before grounding out. He put the ball in play, giving himself a chance.

“I’m not in the box trying to hit home runs,” said Banfield. “From the work I’ve done in the cages, behind the scenes, being more consistent has enabled me to be more direct and compact to the ball -- which has allowed me to have the power.

“This comes from having a plan in the box, really, knowing pitchers and having the approach where I am going to get my pitch and I’m not going to miss it. And I’m not going to give them an easy fan swing.”

Banfield is a learning sponge, and he recalled watching Cardinals All-Star catcher Yadier Molina from afar.

“Watching him do drills on the back field was kind of surreal to watch,” said Banfield.

Jesus Luzardo, Miami’s Opening Day starter who pitched three scoreless innings against Philadelphia, likes what he’s seen of Banfield despite not yet working with him.

“A lot of guys who have worked with him love him a lot,” said Luzardo. “He just seems comfortable. He doesn’t seem out of place and fits in really well with the guys.”

Schumaker said he won’t carry three catchers. Christian Bethancourt (.225, 11 homers, 33 RBIs with the Rays in 2023) is the starter and Nick Fortes (.204, 6 homers, 26 RBIs last year) is the backup -- though it will be more of a 50-50 split -- but neither contributes big offensive numbers.

So, Banfield’s on the doorstep, hoping to make the jump from Pensacola to Miami.

“But the first thing I want to do when I’m on a ballfield is win the game,” he said. “That’s what we’re here for. What I’ve always wanted to do is win a World Series, and that’s the ultimate goal. I want to win a World Series with the Marlins.

“Whether I’m in [Single-A], Double-A, Triple-A or the Majors, all I want to do is win.”