By JAY LeBLANC
Kyle Skipworth was often compared to Joe Mauer during his high school days, so it’s only fitting that he went on to become the first prep catcher taken in the top 10 picks of the amateur draft since the Minnesota Twins took Mauer first overall in 2001. The Florida Marlins selected the 6-foot-3, 195-pound backstop with the No. 6 pick in last year’s draft after he earned Gatorade National Baseball Player of the Year honors by hitting .543 with 13 home runs for Patriot High School in Riverside, Calif. Skipworth’s outstanding senior season included a stretch in which he reached base in 25 consecutive plate appearances.
Skipworth quickly agreed to a deal that included a $2.3 million signing bonus last summer and got right to work with the Marlins’ Rookie-level Gulf Coast League affiliate. Like many high school draftees, he struggled at the plate in his first taste of pro ball and hit just .208 with five home runs and 21 RBI in 159 at bats while fanning 46 times. On the positive side, Skipworth used his plus arm and quick release to throw out 36 percent of attempted base stealers and impressed his coaches by making rapid progress with his game calling ability. Baseball America ranked him as the seventh-best prospect in the talent-rich Marlins organization this past offseason.
The Marlins felt Skipworth was ready for full-season ball this year and assigned him to their Class A South Atlantic League affiliate, the Greensboro Grasshoppers. He’s off to a slow start at the plate, hitting just .203 with a home run and 11 RBI in his first 17 games, but he’s still only 19 and the Marlins believe he’ll hit for both average and power in time. I had a chance to speak with Skipworth on Tuesday evening after rain prevented his Grasshoppers from taking on the Washington Nationals-affiliated Hagerstown Suns in Hagerstown, Md.
Q: What was your reaction when you learned you’d been drafted sixth overall by the Marlins? Did you know in advance that they were looking to pick you?
A: I had a good idea. A lot of [Marlins personnel] had been going to the games and stuff like that. I had a lot of contact with my local scout, Robby Corsaro. They had six or seven guys in at a couple different games, so I knew they were pretty hot on the trail. Then I just waited until that draft morning and I got the call from them saying “We’re going to take you sixth,” right when it happened. I was pretty ecstatic after that.
Q: You signed quickly enough to appear in 43 games last season. What are some of the main lessons you learned in your pro debut?
A: You can’t take every game so seriously. I mean, you’re going to have a new one tomorrow and the day after and the day after. That’s still something I’m learning to deal with, just day to day struggles and learning how to come back the next day and just get back to work in the morning - getting the early work, being mechanically sound - and then just getting in the game and playing and having fun.
Q: At this point in your development, what are your strengths as a catcher, and what are your weaknesses?
A: I think it’s everchanging on any different day. There are days when I’m receiving extremely well, and then there’s days when I’m throwing really well, then the next day I may be real boxy with my hands real hard, and my throws may not be great. Game calling is something I’m really, really working on - to understand situations and pitch calling and pitchers’ strengths and weaknesses. That’s something I’m really working hard on. But overall, I think, everything’s kind of slowly getting a lot better than it was last year. Nothing’s super high, nothing’s super low - everything’s just slowly gaining ground.
Q: Do you step up to the plate with a plan, or do you just trust your reactions?
A: It’s a mixture of both right now. When I was younger it used to be, Just see it and hit it. But now, guys are too good, the stuff’s too good to not go up there with a plan and know, What’s this guy have? What’s his tendency with lefties? With righties? What’s his out pitch? Things like that are what I’m going to have to know. Two strikes? All right - a couple lefties before me he dropped the slider in. Just have that [knowledge that] you’ve got to be ready for a fastball, but know he likes to go in with the slider. Things like that are what I’m learning how to handle.
Q: What are some of your goals for your first full pro season?
A: Personally, I’d like to catch in 100 games and be durable enough to do that. I’ve got a strength program and I’m in there three or four days a week staying strong. And to just get better. I can’t worry about numbers; I’ve just got to worry about being a professional player, having professional at bats, being a good catcher who can lead a pitching staff - that’s something I really want. It doesn’t matter where the numbers end up at the end of the year as long as I can say I was a good catcher. Of course, it would be nice to hit and put up good numbers, but just to be better than I was when I started is something I really want to do.
Q: Is there any player, past or present, that you either look up to or try to model your approach after?
A: I try to model my approach after Mauer a lot. He’s the same size as me, a left-handed hitter, he moves extremely well behind the plate, he’s great defensively. And then leadership-wise, it’s [Jason] Varitek from Boston. He’s not a real outspoken, loud guy; he just leads with that quiet confidence. You never really see him too big on the field, but you know he’s got complete control of every situation that ever comes up in Boston.
Q: How soon do you think you’ll be ready to help the Marlins?
A: As soon as [I’m ready]. I know there’s a lot of things I’ve got to work on. I’ve definitely got to get better in a lot of aspects. A personal goal is three-ish years, but if it takes longer than that, so be it, and if it’s shorter than that, so be it. I’m not hurrying my development at all. I know it would be nice to get there as fast as possible and be there at 21, but the reality is if I’m there at 23, I’m still only 23 years old. If I’m there at 25, I’m still only 25 years old. I just want to make sure that the day that I step up and play in a big league game I’m 100 percent ready to never look back and just take it from there and just roll with it.
Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Be sure to check out our previous National Pastime Prospect Q&A’s:
2008 -Matt Wieters, Orioles; Ross Detwiler, Nationals; Adrian Alaniz, Nationals; Jake Arrieta, Orioles; Greg Golson, Phillies; John Shelby III, White Sox; Brandon Erbe, Orioles; Chris Marrero, Nationals; Jason Donald, Phillies; John Ely, White Sox; Nolan Reimold, Orioles; Michael Burgess, Nationals; Wes Hodges, Indians; Colton Willems, Nationals; Chris Tillman, Orioles; Dominic Brown, Phillies; Brandon Hicks, Braves; Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals; Nick Weglarz, Indians; Gorkys Hernandez, Braves; Beau Mills, Indians; Stephen King, Nationals; Brad Bergesen, Orioles; Fernando Martinez, Mets; Derrick Robinson, Royals; David Hernandez, Orioles; Jason Castro, Astros; Bobby Parnell, Mets; George Kontos, Yankees; Brian Matusz, Orioles; Matt LaPorta, Indians; Austin Jackson, Yankees; Jeff Bianchi, Royals; Cole Rohrbough, Braves; Pat Venditte, Yankees.