Sharif Othman, C
Jacksonville Suns (SOU)
Weekly Stats: 9-20 (.450), 3 2B, 5 RBI, 2 BB, 3 K
Since Paul Lo Duca left at the end of the 2005 season, the Marlins have been in search of a cornerstone catcher. While making due with the Miguel Olivos, John Bucks and Ronny Paulinos of the baseball world, the Fish have diligently attempted to acquire one through both a variety of proposed trades (who could forget the excercise in teeth pulling they went through in an effort to pry one away from the Rangers?) and through the draft. From 2006 through 2011 alone, the Marlins drafted 25 different backstops. When it comes to the draft, Miami has proved it will try anything to score a backstop they can lean on, taking catchers at virtually every spot. Over the years, they have taken Kyle Skipworth and Chris Hatcher in the first five rounds, Jobduan Morales and David Peters in rounds 10-15, Gregg Glime and Charles Keefer in rounds 20-30, and Jose Behar and Sharif Othman in rounds 30+. When Skipworth failed to pan out and Hatcher’s woes at the plate lead him to become a pitcher, the Marlins were probably a bit shellshocked. But when diamond in the rough candidate Othman, selected 973rd overall in round 32 of the 2011 MLB Draft failed to top the mendoza line over his first three years, the front office probably didn’t bat an eye. But with what Othman has managed to accomplish already on the young season at the highest level he’s ever played at, their eyes are undoubtedly wide open.
Although he posted good numbers at the plate during his days at California Baptist University, they were not the kind of numbers that translated well to the next level. Never one to exhibit good patience at the plate, he posted a 124/51 K/BB over his four year college career. As he made the jump to the minors, he left his good slash line behind but the strikeout totals stuck. Over the first three years of his major league career, he struck out an ugly 120 times and walked just 42 times. Entering the 2015 season, the Marlins invited Othman to spring training. He did not get in to a game but that wasn’t the point of Othman’s summons. Rather it was to allow him to spend time around major league hitters and coaches; be the proverbial sponge. That experience was undoubtedly invaluable for the 26-year-old.
After his tenure with the big boys ended on March 17, Othman joined the Suns in Jacksonville. This was when he and hitting coach Rich Arena most evidently went to work on his swing. The adjustments that were made have allowed Othman to get off to a .391/.462/.522 start this year at the highest level he has ever played at.
Othman’s approach at the plate has been nearly entirely modified. He is using a more closed stance which is keeping him from flying open on his swings, utilizing a much shorter stroke and his bat speed through the zone has improved greatly allowing him to catch up to high heat. But perhaps the greatest improvement Othman has made to his approach occurs the second he steps in to the box. Rather than crowding the plate like he has in years past, Othman is standing further off the plate which is complimenting his straight away stance much better and allowing him to get extended on pitches on the outside part of the plate.
As you can see, Othman already has nearly as many opposite field hits through is first 23 at bats in AA than he had all of last season between A and A+.
On the other side of the ball, Othman has always been heralded for his defensive work behind the plate. In his college career, his quick pop and strong arm allowed him to throw out an impressive 65% of potential base stealers. Othman’s strong work behind the plate followed him in to the Marlins’ system. Over his first three seasons, he never threw out less than 30% of his victims. Still utilizing his great pop and transfer which was once clocked at an insane 1.87 seconds, Othman has gotten off to another great start this season, gunning down 5 of 10.
While it is great to see that he has held on to his great arm, the meal ticket that allowed him to enter the majors, it is even better to see Othman’s bat finally arriving. Looking at his stats this year compared to the rest of his career in the minors leads one to think that Othman has come out of nowhere. However, the skill was always there; it just needed a bit of nurturing. Both the work and dedication of Othman himself, of Arena and of the rest of the Suns’ coaching staff is more than worthy of recognition. Even this early in the year, when a guy goes from hitting barely .200 for his career to placing himself amongst the league’s leading hitters at the most advanced level he’s ever taken swings at is nothing short of impressive. Although Othman still has a long season ahead of him and a lot more at-bats to go to prove he can sustain this type of production, the tools are there and a Cinderella story is a definite possibility.