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Skipworth striving to make most of new opportunity

Marlins' former top pick has shot to make Opening Day roster as backup catcher

Skipworth striving to make most of new opportunity

VIERA, Fla. -- There was a time Kyle Skipworth drew comparisons to Joe Mauer.

In 2008, Major League Baseball personnel people saw the sweet left-handed swing and said it resembled the batting style of Twins All-Star and former American League Most Valuable Player Award winner and batting champion.

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These days, the parallels to players like Mauer are over.

The twist in Skipworth's development is he may reach the big leagues based on his glove more than his bat.

"It is a little ironic, you know because, yes, when I was drafted, it was always like, 'He's going to hit. Should we move him? Should we change positions because he's going to hit?'" Skipworth said. "It is funny. I may get to the big leagues as a 'so-called' defensive catcher who continues the offense, working toward being consistent and giving good at-bats every day."

Skipworth, who turns 23 on Friday, finds himself with a chance to make the Opening Day roster largely because Jeff Mathis suffered a broken right collarbone on Feb. 23.

The Marlins are exploring all their options for depth behind Rob Brantly. If they stay in-house, Skipworth is regarded as the catcher closest to being big league ready.

"Everybody on the outside always thought, 'Hey, he can hit, but can he catch?'" Skipworth said. "In reality, in my mind, I knew I could catch. I knew I had the ability. It's still a work in progress. It's always a work in progress. But I had that confidence in myself."

A rangy, left-handed hitter with apparent power, Skipworth's potential at the plate led to him being selected with the sixth overall pick in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft. The player taken one spot ahead of him that year was Buster Posey, a World Series hero with the Giants.

For Skipworth, the grand expectations have been replaced by the reality that he is still trying to reach his big league dream. A 6-foot-4, 225-pounder, he is one of the hardest workers in camp.

Skipworth is getting increased playing time in Spring Training, and he made the start on Wednesday against the Nationals at Space Coast Stadium.

The afternoon pretty much summed up where Skipworth stands in terms of his development. At the plate, he struck out twice. But in the first inning, Skipworth unleashed a laser, throwing out Denard Span, who was trying to steal second base.

"The biggest thing he impressed me with throughout last year was his handling of the game," Marlins vice president of player development Marty Scott said. "His pitch-calling got extremely better, and his catching and throwing. He just didn't make careless errors last year."

Scott noted that Skipworth has effectively been able to not let his offensive struggles affect his defense. It hasn't always been easy.

With Double-A Jacksonville last year, Skipworth batted .217 with 21 homers and 63 RBIs. The power is there, but so are the strikeouts -- 143 in 420 at-bats.

"I need to put the ball in play more," the catcher said. "I need to have better ABs, and not try to do too much."

Because he's always been a power threat, Skipworth's natural instincts are to drive in runs with big hits. That's what made him a standout in high school and become a top 10 first-round pick.

In high school, Skipworth once had a string of 18 consecutive official at-bats with a hit. During that stretch, he reached base safely 25 straight times. At the time, both marks were California high school state records. The 18 straight hits has since been matched, while 25 in a row has been eclipsed.

Skipworth's mindset now is, with a runner on third with less than two outs, to get him in with a ground ball.

"I don't need a home run," he said. "I need a ground ball up the middle, get that run in. Things like that."

Doing the little things may wind up being how Skipworth helps the organization.

"I really feel I've matured on the field, immensely," he said. "That is a big part. I can make a huge impact in the game going 0-for-4 if I can help guide the pitching staff through the game. Then I feel like I've done my job."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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