I should start by saying I’m in the tank for Jarrod Saltalamacchia. I love a hot prospect like the next guy but my favorite is when the Red Sox pick some guy up off the scrap heap and turn him into a productive starter or even an All Star. David Ortiz is the prototypical example of this, though you could throw about half the ’04 team into that same category. When Theo Epstein took over the Red Sox infield consisted of an All Star shortstop and really nothing else. (Oh how times have changed.) There wasn’t much stirring on the farm so he had to bring in some unheralded guys from outside the organization like Ortiz, Bill Mueller, Kevin Millar, and Mark Bellhorn.
Nowadays the Red Sox don’t really do that. Their payroll allows them more certainty if not star power and so the buy-low moves are saved for the back end of the rotation (Brad Penny, et al) and the bullpen. However, due to an accumulation of circumstances, Varitek aging and no adequate replacement in either the farm system or on the free agent market, the Red Sox ended up with Salty as their starting catcher this season. Despite a very successful spring, Saltalamacchia is struggling at the plate. In thirteen plate appearances he has one hit (a weak seeing-eye grounder) and five strikeouts.
I mention all this because at the very back end of Jon Heyman’s column today, he writes the following:
A Red Sox person said they weren’t concerned yet about Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who went 0-for-10 with five strikeouts to open the season against his old team, the Rangers. Word is, he has until June to prove he belongs as the starting catcher.
Concerned or not, there are not many other choices available. Still, it’s good to hear Salty will at least be given the rope to hang himself with before the team flails about for a better option elsewhere. As far as the specifics of that rope, the average catcher hit only .245/.312/.374 last year so proving he belongs as a starting catcher doesn’t mean hitting like Joe Mauer or Brian McCann. As Sully pointed out over Twitter, hitting like Jarrod Saltalamacchia would likely do the trick.
Of course there is more to being a starting catcher than just hitting and admittedly there things get a more difficult to quantify. But so far we know Salty has thrown out two of six would-be base stealers, slightly above last season’s league average of 26%. (He threw out two of nine this spring.) We also know the ink spilled about how hard he works and how much he’s taken after Jason Varitek could very well blacken the ocean of you choice.
So Salty might not be David Ortiz part deux. All the above says he doesn’t have to be. Simply being an above average hitter with a decent arm who the pitchers like is enough to call his acquisition a success. We’re not there yet (dude is hitting .091), but it’s not an unreasonably high hurdle to jump in two months time.