Skipworth Looking For Different Results In Return To Greensboro

GREENSBORO, N.C.—Kyle Skipworth could have described his 2009 season with any number of adjectives. The young catcher chose "trying" to express how his first full professional season went. The sixth overall pick in the 2008 draft, he hit just .208/.263/.348 at low Class A Greensboro.

An experience like that could bring a player down, but Skipworth has come into 2010 on a mission to put last season in the rearview mirror.

Skipworth had never been through anything like what he experienced a year ago. This was a player who once set a California high school record with hits in 18 straight trips to the plate and who was being compared with Joe Mauer by the end of his career at Patriot High in Rubidoux, Calif. The Marlins nabbed the lefthanded-hitting backstop with their top pick in the 2008 draft and gave him a $2.3 million signing bonus.

The club challenged him with the assignment to Greensboro to open his first full year as a professional. Skipworth's season started out well enough, as he recorded hits in 12 of his first 13 games, but he soon went into a slump that kept him spiraling down for most of the season.

"I had a bad month," Skipworth said. "And then I really didn't know how to rebound from that. It just kind of kept snowballing into another bad month, and then I was just fighting from the bottom of the barrel trying to get back to the top."

Skipworth hit just .130 during the month of May, when he struck out 33 times in 69 at-bats. His average plunged to .204 by the South Atlantic League's all-star break in mid-June. His struggles took a toll on Skipworth, who at times fell victim to worrying too much about trying to satisfy outside expectations.

"Kyle's a very conscienscious guy," Marlins vice president of player development and scouting Jim Fleming said. "He wanted to do it all and kind of dug himself a hole. He got real frustrated and also got a little beat up as you do your first year trying to catch every day."

Skipworth's numbers rallied somewhat in June, as he hit .254/.315/.328 for the month, but began declining again over the rest of the season. He eventually needed to be shut down in early August. He had played through a hyperextension of his elbow and needed surgery to remove a bone chip. The season was over. Now the real work could begin.

Turning The Page

Skipworth set forth the goal of catching 100 games in 2010—he caught 64 in 2009. To that end, he dedicated himself to taking care of his body and working in the weight room. He spent extra time at the team's complex in Jupiter, Fla., working on a strength program before heading home for the winter. He came back to Jupiter early to get a jump on spring training, working on simplifying his work behind the plate with Marlins catching instructor Tim Cossins.

He also got in plenty of repetitions for his swing with hitting coordinator John Mallee. The club wanted to make sure Skipworth relaxed at the plate, loosened up his upper body and utilized his lower half more effectively. By all accounts, Skipworth's efforts resulted in a strong spring training, although he wasn't invited to big league camp as he was before 2009 due to the team's desire for him to focus on the minor league campaign.

One interested observer during the spring was Andy Haines, who was Skipworth's hitting coach in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 2008. Haines is now his manager with Greensboro.

"I've been impressed with what I saw in him this spring," Haines said. "The first thing that comes to mind is physically how much better he is. He's put on good weight. He's just starting to grow into his body."

Watching Skipworth work out and take batting practice, Haines could see his physical tools were obvious. But it's the mental side of Skipworth's game and his work ethic behind the plate that's impressed his new manager the most.

"He's in the pitchers-catchers meetings," Haines said. "He has input in those meetings. He runs that pitching staff and takes pride in running a game. Those are the main things that separate him and how far he's come since I had him in that first year."

A Different Animal

While his adjustments on the physical side of his game, whether to his swing or his workout regimen, should help Skipworth have a better 2010, the catcher is confident a stronger mental approach will help him avoid the slumps that derailed his 2009 season.

"I feel like I'm a brick wall now," Skipworth said. "I've seen what the bottom of the spectrum is like and I know how to deal with that. So when I do have great games I don't get too high, and when I don't, it's on to the next day."

While the fact that Skipworth is repeating low Class A could be seen as a setback, the organization has made it clear to the 20-year-old that there's no timetable for him to become a big leaguer. He'll be the one that determines his timetable. It also made more sense to give him another turn at Greensboro's hitter-friendly NewBridge Bank Park than send him to the pitcher-oriented high Class A Florida State League anyway.

Moreover, Skipworth has come into the season with the mentality of just enjoying playing the game again and not fixating on what expectations anyone else might have for him. And even though he didn't get to play with the Marlins' big league club in spring training, he still got the opportunity to face big league competition when the Marlins came to Greensboro for an exhibition game April 3. All Skipworth did that day was go 1-for-2 with a two-run home run off Marlins righthander Anibal Sanchez. Not a bad way to kickoff a potential bounceback season.

"I'm just going to be a different animal this year," Skipworth said. "There were still times last year I was timid. I would get up in the box and think, 'Aw, god.' I'd be uneasy. And now I feel like I get up there and it's, 'Alright let's go, let's do this.' I get in the box with a whole new confidence level."