Marlins' Nola adjusting to life behind the dish

Former shortstop showing promise as catcher, likely bound for Double-A

Marlins' Nola adjusting to life behind the dish

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Packing his equipment bag is taking a little bit longer for Austin Nola these days. Instead of tucking away an infield glove or two, the 27-year-old now is stuffing his bag full of catchers' gear.

After playing 566 games in the Minor Leagues -- 430 of those at shortstop -- Nola is switching to catcher. The organization has a need for depth, and the 2012 fifth-round pick is being groomed as a backup.

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"He was moved to catcher for a reason," manager Don Mattingly said. "This guy is a baseball player. He's one of those guys that you don't underestimate, because they continue to work. They understand how to play. That's a good thing."

With Tomas Telis likely to be the starter at Triple-A New Orleans, Nola is expected to open at Double-A Jacksonville.

"I was excited," Nola said. "We talked about it, thought about it. I had to kind of sleep on it, but thought it would be good to help the team. That's really what I wanted to do, whatever I can to help this team win. That's really all I thought about."

Besides, in the offseason, he already had a throwing partner. His younger brother, Aaron Nola, is with the Phillies. Austin caught for Aaron a number of times.

"He's helped me a lot with how to communicate with the pitchers and talk to them," Nola said.

Nola made his first Grapefruit League start behind the plate on Wednesday in Miami's 9-5 win over the Astros.

"The thing about Nola is the makeup is there for a big league player," said Marlins right-hander Tom Koehler, who started that game. "The fact they moved him behind the plate, he has the prototypical backup catcher makeup. He wants to learn. He has the leadership skills."

Miami is set at catcher in the big leagues with J.T. Realmuto as the regular and A.J. Ellis as the backup. But Ellis is currently resting a strained left hamstring, and at least early in Spring Training, there are plenty of innings for catchers.

"It's a big transition, for sure," Nola said. "There's a whole lot different. It's more technical-type stuff than the infield. It's very enjoyable to get back there and be part of that."

Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.