CLEARWATER, Fla. - J.T. Realmuto knew he was going somewhere. So, back home in Oklahoma City, he and his wife packed their bags last week and waited for the phone call that would tell them which way to start driving.
"We didn't want to head to Florida and get traded to [a team that trains in] Arizona," he said with a laugh.
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The call came Thursday afternoon. Realmuto had been traded to the Phillies. Go east, young man, you've become the latest star player to escape the rebuilding Miami Marlins.
Realmuto wasted no time joining his new team. He and his wife, Lexi, and infant daughter, Grace, drove through the night Thursday and arrived in Clearwater late Friday afternoon. Pitchers and catchers will go through their first official workout of the spring on Wednesday. Realmuto joined the gang of earlier arrivers for a workout on Saturday morning and has already caught one of Aaron Nola's bullpen sessions.
"This is definitely an organization that I'm proud to play for and I'm happy to be here," he said Tuesday.
Realmuto, who turns 28 in March, is widely hailed as the best catcher in baseball. He made his first All-Star team last season but finished in last place with a stripped-down Marlins team that is still in the early stages of a rebuild. Realmuto saw some of his teammates, including eventual NL MVP Christian Yelich, get traded away last winter and made it known to Marlins officials that he wanted to be dealt to a team with a chance to win. It took the entire offseason and a lot of rumors du jour, but he got his wish.
"It was definitely a different offseason for me and my wife," he said. "We spent more time on social media than we ever have in our lives, just trying to find out if anybody knows any scoop that we didn't know. It was a little stressful, a little different for us, but we're definitely happy with the outcome."
And he's happy he won't be playing half his games in spacious Marlins Park anymore. Realmuto hit .277 with 30 doubles, 21 homers, 74 RBIs and an .825 OPS for the Marlins last season. He did much of his damage on the road, where his OPS was .870, compared to .773 at home.
Over his career, he has hit .309 with a .848 OPS in 280 games on the road and .245 with a .678 OPS in 260 games in Marlins Park.
"It's definitely tough," he said. "I can count too many times that I felt like I crushed a ball in Marlins Park only to watch Odubel Herrera dive in center field and catch it at the wall. So it will be nice to get out of there and - not that Citizens Bank Park is any slouch, you still have to hit the ball well, but it will be nice knowing if you get a ball, you have a chance of getting it out. In Marlins Park, sometimes you felt like you got all of it and you were flying out to center field, not even getting a double out of it. You were running back to the dugout. So it will be nice to not have that situation.
"I felt like some of my issues in Marlins Park were that I knew it was so big and sometimes maybe I tried to do a little too much and got out of my strengths. I'd muscle up and try to hit the ball too far, which over time can really create problems. I think just being able to play in a park that is more hitter-friendly will give me more confidence and I'll try not to do too much and just take things as they come and that will help me out tremendously."
As a visitor to Citizens Bank Park, Realmuto hit .282 with eight doubles, four homers, 13 RBIs and a .788 OPS in 28 games.
Phillies officials believe Realmuto will have as much impact on the team's pitching and defense as he does on the offense. Last week, GM Matt Klentak mentioned that Realmuto's blocking ability would give pitchers confidence to try to get hitters to chase balls in the dirt. Ask Brad Lidge how important that is. He always knew Carlos Ruiz would block his dirt-diving sliders.
"I've definitely studied all of them multiple times just by facing them," Realmuto said of the Phillies pitchers. "There's a lot of great arms on this team, a lot of young guys with electric stuff, guys that are getting better. From top to bottom, this entire rotation has quality, plus stuff and they've all gotten better. I look forward to helping them continue their improvement."
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