Despite two seasons of steady improvement, Boston Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia still has to prove he is the right man for Boston’s starting backstop job. Producing a career-high in home runs (25) and RBI (59) in 2012 (up from previous highs of 16/56 in ’11), the switch-hitting Saltalamacchia certainly has positives to build on as he enters 2013.
There are areas of concern, however, especially in regards to his penchant for striking out in crucial situations and his inability to make contact when it’s needed. Saltalamacchia fanned 139 times in 447 plate appearances - nearly a 30 percent average - last year. The problem was an issue that dogged him in 2011 as well. He went down via the strikeout on 119 occasions in less than 400 official at-bats two seasons ago.
Saltalamacchia crushes fastballs, evidenced by some long homers last year, but breaking pitches and off-speed stuff have given him fits. Swinging and missing at pitches that fall three feet in front of the plate were a common occurrence last season, and Saltalamacchia will need to become more disciplined in detecting and laying off the off-speed stuff. This will force pitchers to challenge him more with the heat.
If not, we’ll likely see more of a platoon situation involving David Ross, a backup for the Atlanta Braves in 2012, and perhaps Ryan Lavarnway, who struggled defensively and offensively (.157 batting average) after being called up from the minors in August and September of last season.
Saltalamacchia was a serious all-star candidate halfway through the 2012 season (batting in the .280s at one point) before his performance at the plate dipped (his average ended up falling to .222). ) Opposing pitchers decided to avoid throwing him the fastball as much as possible and, instead, fed him a regular diet of junk that he too often swung at.
Defensively, Saltalamacchia, a No. 1 draft pick of the Braves in 2003, finished in the top 15 among MLB catchers last season. He caught 104 games with a .991 fielding percentage and just seven errors . If Saltalamacchia can continue to correct his flaws, most notably with the stick, he could begin to enter the conversation as one of the league’s better catchers in 2013.