Miami Marlins catcher Rob Brantly separates himself from the norm in a couple of important ways.
First and foremost, Brantly is a left-handed-hitting catcher. That's a highly desirable quality for a well-balanced Major League roster. In addition, Brantly can be considered an "offense-first" catcher. Again, he possesses another endearing feature in what is a traditionally defensive dominant position.
Brantly, 23, was a baseball star at Chaparral High School (Calif.). His efforts earned him a selection by the Washington Nationals in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft. Instead of signing a professional contract, Brantly enrolled at University of California-Riverside. He played two seasons, hitting for a composite batting average of .349 with 11 home runs and 62 RBIs. In 361 at-bats, Brantly struck out only 41 times.
In 2010, the Detroit Tigers selected Brantly with their third-round pick in the First-Year Player Draft.
Brantly does not have the size and build of the prototypical catcher. Rather than being stocky or muscular as catchers tend to be, Brantly appears on the slim side. He's listed by the Marlins this spring at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds. Athletic and physically fit, Brantly doesn't have much room for in-season weight loss. He could easily handle additional growth through muscle gain in his upper body.
Brantly began his career playing at low Class A West Michigan in the Midwest League. He played in 52 games and hit .255. That included 10 doubles, a triple and a home run in his 217 plate appearances. He struck out only 22 times, again showing his ability to make contact.
He was assigned again to West Michigan to begin his second season and hit .303 in 317 plate appearances before earning a midseason promotion to Class A Advanced Lakeland. The higher classification caused a few problems, as he finished his season there hitting only .219.
Brantly got the opportunity to work with other catchers in the Tigers system during last year's Spring Training. He wanted to continue to work hard and learn the finer components of the defensive part of his game. He was especially focused on learning how to handle a pitching staff and calling a game from Tigers starting catcher Alex Avila.
Even though he scuffled at the plate after being promoted to Lakeland, Brantly began the 2012 season with another promotion. He was assigned to Double-A Erie, where he appeared in 46 games and hit .311. Clearly on a fast track, Brantly was assigned to Triple-A Toledo, where he had 139 plate appearances before receiving notification that his life was about to change.
In a stunning transaction in late July, Brantly was traded to the Marlins, along with left-handed pitcher Brian Flynn, top right-handed pitching prospect Jacob Turner and a Round B 2013 Draft compensation pick for right-handed pitcher Anibal Sanchez, infielder Omar Infante and a Round A 2013 Draft compensation pick. It was the first time Draft compensation picks had ever been traded.
While Turner may have been the focal point of the trade from Miami's perspective, the Marlins were not deep in offensive catching prospects. Brantly met a team need.
I scouted Brantly this spring in Florida. He is an energetic player with a good feel for proper hitting mechanics. His defense continues to develop.
Brantly's hitting tool is evident in a short, measured stroke that is built for contact and for hitting the gaps. He is quick to the ball with wrists that generate enough bat speed to spray the ball to all parts of the field. His greatest asset is his ability to put the bat on the ball and hit for average. Brantly's ability to move runners along will also be beneficial to his club.
While I didn't see much raw power, I think Brantly will be able to hit some balls out of the park based upon the pure quickness of his hands.
Brantly has good pitch recognition and is a selective hitter. He doesn't chase pitches he can't handle. While he may not walk a great deal of the time, he doesn't get himself out by making bad decisions. He trusts his instincts at the plate, making his compact swing work in his favor.
Defensively, Brantly is still a tad below Major League average in his overall catching mechanics. He needs to continue to improve his footwork blocking balls in the dirt, shifting his body into throwing position and refining the general physical requirements of receiving the ball. He has to work on catching popups, as they have been a challenge in his career.
Learning his pitching staff, calling a game and earning the trust of pitchers all comes with repetition.
Brantly has a good and accurate throwing arm. If pitchers keep runners close, Brantly will do his job throwing out potential basestealers.
Having moved along in the Tigers' organization so rapidly, Brantly continued his development at the Marlins' Triple-A level. He was assigned to play for the New Orleans club in the Pacific Coast League. He wasn't there long, playing only 14 games and hitting .365 before he was summoned to the big league club.
On Aug. 14, 2012, Brantly made his Major League debut. He went to the plate 113 times in 31 games. Included in his 29 hits were eight doubles and three home runs. He walked 13 times and struck out on 16 occasions. His introduction to playing at the highest level of professional baseball was a success. He more than held his own defensively.
Brantly offers the Marlins the luxury of a rare left-handed-hitting catcher with an ability to make things happen offensively. He will likely begin the season at the top of the catching depth chart. His dependable bat and energetic approach should allow him to remain an important component of Marlins baseball.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.