Catcher Realmuto gets first big league chance

Catcher Realmuto gets first big league chance

MIAMI -- Saturday was bittersweet for catcher J.T. Realmuto, who was called up to fill Jarrod Saltalamacchia's open roster spot.

The Marlins made the move official on Sunday when Saltalamacchia was placed on the seven-day concussion disabled list. Realmuto was recalled from Double-A Jacksonville.

You'd think the prospect of making a big league debut would make anyone giddy. But Realmuto, a native of Del City, Okla., had to watch his hometown Oklahoma City Thunder lose the Western Conference Finals to the San Antonio Spurs in overtime Saturday night.

"That was a bittersweet night for me, getting the call but having to watch the Thunder lose," he said. "I wasn't too happy about that."

But Realmuto has a lot to be happy about. The 23-year-old was hitting .301 with 14 doubles, three triples and five homers for the Suns. He has the sixth-most RBIs (31) in the Southern League and is second in slugging (.503).

"I think we feel like right now, he's the guy who, in the short term, we think he can come up and do a good job," manager Mike Redmond said. "We hope that Salty is just a short-term deal, but you never know with a concussion. So right now J.T. is a good fit. He's playing well, he's swinging the bat extremely well and we're glad to have him."

In the same league last year, Realmuto carried a .239/.310/.353 slash line across 106 games. In high school, Realmuto played shortstop, and he converted to catcher after being drafted by the Marlins in the third round in 2010.

"Last year, after my first game or two, I was hitting really well power-wise, so after that, I tried to do too much and tried to hit the ball over the fence," Realmuto said. "When you try to do that, it is not going to happen as often as you want. Now that catching is coming a little more naturally to me, I can focus a little bit more back on my hitting."

Realmuto didn't crack the Top 25 in any statistical category in 2013. But now that he's coming into his own, he has been battling Cubs top prospect Kris Bryant all season for the top slugging spot in the Southern League. Bryant was the No. 2 overall pick in last year's Draft.

"That guy is impressive. We haven't got to play him yet," Realmuto said. "We're actually going to play him next week. I heard he's putting up some impressive numbers."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter