The end of the 2015 season had many fantasy owners and prospect followers excited with a strong season. Although not quite an elite caliber bat noticed by a 88 wRC+, Realmuto showed decent contact (.259 average and 15.0% strikeout rate) and promising power potential (10 bombs and .147 isolated power). His projections by most had his hit tool as average at best, and his power as below average. So anything close to what he showed in 2015 would already be a success, and his growth as a hitter would be fantastic.
Enter 2016. The bat reaches the .300 level (.303), and the power, although slightly diminished, still showed strong and prevalent. 11 bombs and a .126 isolated power is not exceptional, until we consider Realmuto is just a 25-year-old catcher during the timeframe. Catchers develop their hit and power tools slightly later than position players because of the emphasis placed on defensive growth early in their development. For Realmuto, his peak is beginning to start, and his bat is ready to shine.
Part of what makes Realmuto so interesting besides his bat is his ability to swipe bags, something that just doesn’t happen at the catcher position. He’s taken 20 bags over his first two full seasons in the bigs. Considering that entire positions accounted for only 82 in 2016, that’s rather impressive. In rotisserie leagues especially, Realmuto is going to add great value to get something from a position that is dry from it otherwise.
So Realmuto has been real good for a couple of years, increasing his wRC+ to an impressive 107 in 2016, 20 points higher than the average for the catcher position. But is it sustainable?
Firstly, the steals are a nice add, but they are hard to imagine as a long-term value piece. It’s just not realistic to expect a catcher to not lose his speed and stealing abilities, especially in the National League where he can’t take days off to DH. He still will end up above average for a few years with it, but before long his steals will fade as all catchers with speed do.
But Realmuto’s bat is interesting. While his power projections are going to shade towards average for a catcher, or at least average for early round catchers, where he really has a chance to separate himself is with his contact. The .303 average in 2016 was propped up by a nice .357 BABIP, which generally is expected to come down. If his average falls back closer to the .250-.260 region, Realmuto becomes an average value catcher with a couple steals to boost value.
His contact isn’t just held up by luck, though, as we look deeper into it. Yes, his BABIP is high, but it isn’t unreasonable for good hitters to live at around .330 which isn’t a huge drop. And his batted ball profile matches someone who can beat his BABIP. His groundball rate of 49.3% is heavy, and even though it takes away from some power potential it allows him to hit gaps between infielders. And while defenses can shift to try and take away from his singles, he’s able to spray the ball enough to all fields to prevent heavy defensive alignments. Look at his career spray chart:
Something else of note is how many dribblers he hits as well. His 10.5% infield hit rate is well above major league average 6.4%, and again we see a scenario where he is using his speed to increase his value. While it won’t last forever, for the next few years he still will have good legs under him, and we can expect the infield singles to continue. Again, this is something that shows an ability to beat BABIP regression, further backing up the idea that he’s a reasonable .300-ish hitter.
With any young hitter, we need to make sure that they either will be able to adjust to pitchers’ evolving strategies, or that they have enough ability to avoid it altogether. Looking at Realmuto, he fits in the latter category; he tears the ball in any part of the zone:
There’s only one weak ninth in his zone, and even then, he’s got good spots right around it. Good luck finding a weak spot in his contact game.
JT Realmuto is getting fantasy attention because he’s a catcher who can steal, and although his power may not ever get to be something special, his contact ability is going to make him one of the more valuable catchers in baseball heading forward. He hit .300 with a pretty high BABIP, but everything about his swing plane, batted ball profile, and spray charts show that he can stay with a high BABIP and, therefore, maintain high contact numbers as well. Realmuto is a talent that needs to be picked up or traded for if you have the chance, because he’s a young catcher who checks off all the boxes for you.
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