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A new position, a better shot

He could have been a 5-foot-11, 190-pound right-handed hitting outfielder heading into Major League Baseball's First-Year Players Draft.

He could have been a 5-11, 190-pound right-handed hitting third baseman going into the draft.

Or he could have been a 5-11, 190-pound right-handed pitcher entering the draft.

Instead, John Ryan "J.R." Murphy will enter the draft as a 5-11, 190-pound right-handed hitting catcher.

That means the IMG Academy School senior will have a better opportunity of being taken tonight in one of the first three rounds, rather than the second and third days of the draft.

The switch to catcher and Murphy's ability to adapt to the position so quickly has vaulted him to the top prospect in the state of Florida, according to

Following his junior year, IMG Academy baseball program director Ken Bolek suggested the move to catcher to Murphy and his family.

"I wanted to for go for it," Murphy said. "I know Ken Bolek has always had my best interest at heart."

"His bat would be able to play at the next level," IMG Academy Coach Kevin Sharp said. "What's going to separate him? What's going to make him a more intriguing prospect? As long as he was going to transition to catcher, it was a no-brainer."

After the first month, Sharp saw Murphy's natural abilities take over behind the plate.

"His receiving, catching and throwing -- there was nobody better here," Sharp said. "Being in our program, he accelerated. He got in four years in one season. He just had to get better at receiving and calling a game."

Even though he has been compared to Russell Martin of the Los Angeles Dodgers, he said Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez always has been his idol.

"He's not real big; neither am I," Murphy said of Rodriguez. "I like his intensity behind the plate.

"His hitting separates him."

Murphy's hitting has also separated the Bradenton resident, who would have attended Manatee High had he not gone to IMG Academy as a ninth grader.

In 97 at-bats this past season, he posted a .629 average, with 16 doubles, 11 home runs, 60 RBI, 54 runs with only four strikeouts.

Murphy also was the top base stealer on his team, with 12 stolen bases.

"He caught the attention of a lot of professional scouts out there," Sharp said. "A lot of teams have followed him every day."

Murphy had pre-draft workouts with Texas, Kansas City, Pittsburgh and the New York Yankees.

If there was one area where Murphy needed to exert himself, it was taking charge.

"Getting control of a pitcher when he's starting to scuffle," Sharp said. "Taking control of the team when they seem to veer off course. You've got to take charge, especially at that position."

Murphy also had to recondition his body to handle the rigors of squatting and throwing more frequently.

"It's a grind and continues to be a grind," he said. "I changed my workout by a lot. I changed my mentality and workout."

When Murphy watches major league games on television, he observes the catchers.

"I love learning about the game, watching big league catchers and how they call games," Murphy said.

Murphy's contingency plan to the draft is to attend the University of Miami.

"Which is not a bad thing, by the way," said Murphy. "That's the only school I wanted to go to and they offered me first, so I took it right away."

And if he does not make it as a catcher, Murphy also could return to the outfield or third base.

"I can hit," Murphy said. "If you can hit, you're going to play somewhere.

"But I love to catch."

J.R. Murphy

J.R. Murphy brings a lot of pop to the plate, with a .629 average, 11 home runs and only four strikeouts.

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