The Success Of Red Sox C Jarrod Saltalamacchia Is Vital To 2012 Season

Boston Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek may have retired this offseason, but this franchise has been preparing for his eventual departure for a few years now, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia was given the job last year. As part of our spring training prep (which began yesterday with a review of David Ortiz at DH), let’s see how “Salty” sizes up by comparison to his fellow AL East catchers.

Saltalamacchia was once the dreaded “can’t-miss” prospect when he was coming up in the Texas Rangers organization and he was even the centerpiece of a deal put together when the Rangers traded current Yankee first baseman Mark Teixeira to the Braves back in 2007. But Saltalamacchia has never been able to fulfill his immense promise, and the 358 at-bats he got last year with the Red Sox are a career-high. He’s not effective at hitting for average or getting on base, though his 16 home runs represented a welcome uptick in power, as he ended with a .450 slugging percentage. The positive? He’s still only 26 years old and last year was the first chance he got to play regularly and get into the flow of the lineup. He can get better, but 2012 is certainly going to be a big year for him.

The rest of the AL East catchers…

NY Yankees: Russell Martin—One of the things I like about doing these little research projects is finding out the little tidbit that surprises you. For me, seeing that Martin was only 29 years old was a surprise, because it seems like he’s been around a lot longer. He was a very good offensive player for the Los Angeles Dodgers from 2006-09, before tailing off in 2010 and being picked up by the Yankees last year. He got off to a blazing start, but his numbers by year’s end were mediocre—a .324 on-base percentage and .408 slugging. What this essentially boils down to is that Marin has one hot six-week stretch in the last two seasons. He’s another one who faces a key year in 2012, although the Yanks’ decision to trade top catching prospect Jesus Montero in a deal for starting pitching undoubtedly ensures Martin won’t be looking over his shoulder.

Tampa Bay: Jose Molina—The least accomplished of three Molina catchers in the big leagues, 36-year-old Jose has never been a regular starter in the bigs, so Tampa’s got a real problem at a position where only untested kids in Jose Lobaton and Robinson Chirinios are the backups. If the Rays fall out of the race, the guess is that the kids get the playing time. If they contend—which is the safe assumption, then I’m betting their catcher in July is someone not on their roster right now.

Toronto: J.P. Arencibia—He’s a good prospect and with 23 home runs last year in his first shot at regular playing time, shows signs of potential The .282 on-base percentage is awful, but if he drives the ball for power, he can learn plate discipline.

Baltimore: Matt Wieters—Another “can’t-miss” prospect three years ago, the Orioles catcher is slowly gaining steam in his career. His 22 home runs a year ago were a career high. At age 25, he still needs the same work that Arencibia and Saltalamacchia do when it comes to plate discipline, but Wieters’ has the best established track record, and also the best chance at becoming a bona fide superstar.

I’d rate Wieters and Arencibia in the 1-2 spots in this division, with Martin third, Saltalamacchia fourth and Molina last. The only thing that seems for certain though is that the Tampa situation is clearly the worst. Given the competitiveness at this position, whether Saltalamacchia can give the Red Sox an edge would look to be vital to the team’s ultimate success.

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