Red Sox Player Preview: Jarrod Saltalamacchia
The Captain, Jason Varitek, will always be the catcher in the hearts of many Red Sox fans, but the guy who I would argue will get more games at catcher this year is the guy up next in our 2011 player previews, Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Once a top prospect, the 25 year old backstop has been traded all around baseball and in 2010 the Red Sox finally got the player they have had their eye on for a while. His season was cut short last year, but will 2011 finally be the year Salti can put it all together and live up to his hype and potential?
We will look at his 2010 statistics, his career highs in parenthesis, and his 2011 outlook.
Games: 12 (93, 2007)
Average: .167 (.266, 2007)
On-Base Percentage: .333 (.352, 2008)
Slugging Percentage: .292 (.422, 2007)
On Base plus Slugging (OPS): .625 (.732, 2007)
Home Runs: 0 (11, 2007)
Runs Batted In: 2 (34, 2009)
Runs: 2 (39, 2007)
Doubles: 3 (13, 2007 tied with 2008)
Walks: 6 (31, 2008)
UZR/150*: N/A (N/A)
*UZR/150 is a sabermetric number of runs above or below average a fielder is, per 150 defensive games. Zero is an average fielder.
Salti started his professional career with the Atlanta Braves, and was highly regarded across baseball as a switch hitter with a huge power ceiling with the potential to stay at the position. He was ranked the #18 prospect in baseball by Baseball America in 2006, breaking out that season hitting .314 with 19 home runs at class A Myrtle Beach. He continued to build on that success in 2007 at AA starting .309/.404/.619 (BA/OBP/SLG), but the issue was he was blocked at catcher by Brian McCann. Thus the Braves decided to move him as the center piece in a deal for Mark Teixeira (along with Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, and others).
That is where the story takes a turn. He never really was able to continue the development path he was on once he arrived in Texas and received more than 300 major league at bats only once before he was moved once again to Boston. Just as he seemingly arrived in Boston, his season was put on hold with a staph infection and then later came to an end with a thumb injury that required surgery. These injuries shortened his season so much that 2010’s statistics can be ignored as he only accumulated 30 plate appearances; far too few to make any of his offensive numbers statistically significant.
Despite all of this, the Red Sox did not hesitate naming Salti their 2011 starting catcher as soon as Victor Martinez signed with Detroit. His bat may have been what once made him an elite prospect, but that is not the primary focus of the Red Sox this offseason. Garry Tuck, the Red Sox bullpen coach and catching instructor, has been training with Salti two times a week all offseason, working on the little things that can make him a better defensive catcher. The workouts have been grueling, but he has made a strong impression on Tuck and others in the organization. He throws well, but his body is big for a catcher (listed at 6’4’’, 235 lbs) so his development on defense will be key to his playing time and production.
In their brief preview in 2010, the Red Sox very much liked the way he handled the pitching staff. Terry Francona said to Alex Speier WEEI that, “[If] Salty doesn’t hit right away, that’s not the end of the world. But when he catches, we always know that every time he caught, the pitcher got deep into the game. He had that babysitting mentality where he wanted to take care of the starting pitcher.” The Red Sox place big value in running a staff, and Varitek is a shining example as he is regarded around the game as one of the best at this (though sabermetricians have long argued there is no statistical evidence of an ability to manage a pitch staff).
Bill James, Red Sox employee and stat god, is one of the more optimistic on Salti’s offensive outlook for 2011. James has him penciled in for a .249/.323/.422 slash line. That would be solidly above average offensively for a catcher. The PECOTA projections, originally created by Nate Silver and found at Baseball Prospectus (subscription required) are far less optimistic with a .235/.309/.386 line. However, even that less optimistic projection does not leave him far below average at catcher, where the league standard is incredibly low. It should also be helped by the fact that I assume the Red Sox will go with Varitek against most lefties, as Salti has been historically stronger against right handed pitching and Tek stronger against left handers. If you want to judge his ability for yourself, here is a video of Salti (and others) in the cage early this preseason taken by WEEI’s Rob Bradford.
Salti has never been given the opportunity to develop and grow as a catcher, as many of his major league plate appearances have come at first base, but that could change in 2011. I remain cautiously optimistic with him for the future, as he still possesses offensive potential and he has shown a strong desire to work to get better defensively. I think the Red Sox front office and fans alike should be happy if Salti can prove capable on defensively while not looking over-matched offensively. He is still very young with room to grow, and as long as we keep our expectations in check, Salti could pleasantly surprise everyone.
Want to know more about Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s outlook in 2011? Please comment and ask questions in the comments section. Also, find me on Twitter @WillWoodBoston.