Post Hype Prospect – @RedSox Jarrod Saltalamacchia
When people look back at the trade that brought Mark Teixeira to the Atlanta Braves, people talk about Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, and Matt Harrison; but at the time of the trade the main prospect was Jarrod Saltalamacchia, or as he is often known (probably due to his impressively long and difficult to spell last name), Salty.
Ever since he was drafted out of Royal Palm Beach High School by the Atlanta Braves in 2003, Saltalamacchia has been viewed as a potential middle of the order slugger who may be able to remain a catcher. Saltalamacchia signed quickly for $950,000 and appeared in 46 games for the Rookie League GCL Braves, putting up a 239/382/396, showcasing a willingness to walk and some decent power with 11 doubles. After the season, Baseball America ranked Saltalamacchia the #3 prospect in the GCL and the #19 prospect in the Braves’ system.
For 2004, the Braves assigned Saltalamacchia to the Rome Braves of the Sally League, where he shows a little power (19 doubles and 10 homers over 366 PA), some patience (34 walks), and enough defensive chops to keep him firmly entrenched as the Braves catcher of the future. After the season, Baseball America ranked Saltalamacchia the #9 prospect in the Braves system and the #7 prospect in the Sally League.
For 2005, the Braves assigned Saltalamacchia to the high A Myrtle Beach Pelicans of the Carolina League, where he exploded, putting up a 314/394/519 line across 529 plate appearances while hitting 35 doubles and 19 home runs. Baseball America took notice, ranking Saltalamacchia the #1 Braves prospect, the #1 prospect in the Carolina League, and giving Saltalamacchia the “Best Hitter for Average” superlative after the season. Baseball America also ranked Saltalamacchia the #18 prospect in all of baseball (between Conor Jackson and Andy LaRoche), firmly establishing his prospect status.
In 2006, Saltalamacchia was promoted to the AA Mississippi Braves of the Southern League, where he struggled, putting up a 230/353/380 line while he struggled with injuries. Though none of them were considered career threatening, Saltalamacchia had a down season. After the season, Saltalamacchia was again ranked the Braves #1 prospect and the “Best Hitter for Average” in the Braves system by Baseball America, which also ranked him the #10 prospect in the Southern League and the #36 prospect in all of baseball (between Jeff Niemann and Jacob McGee).
In 2007, Saltalamacchia returned to the AA Mississippi Braves and returned to form, putting up an amazing 309/404/617 line before being called up by the Atlanta Braves, where he put up a 284/333/411 line while splitting time between catcher and first base. On July 31, 2007, Saltalamacchia was dealt along with Beau Jones, Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz and Matt Harrison to the Texas Rangers for Ron Mahay and Mark Teixeira. Saltalamacchia spent the rest of the season with the Rangers, putting up a respectable if unimpressive 251/290/431 line for the rest of the season, splitting his time nearly evenly between first base and catcher.
In 2008, Saltalamacchia opened the season with the Oklahoma RedHawks (yes, apparently it is one word), putting up a 291/391/491 line across 15 games before being brought back up to Texas. Saltalamacchia served as the Rangers starter when healthy, putting up a 253/352/364 line. Saltalamacchia was injured much of the season, with a bruised hand, a groin strain, a broken bone in his foot, and an elbow issue.
In 2009, Saltalamacchia was the Rangers’ primary catcher, putting up a 233/290/371 line. At the end of the 2009 season, Saltalamacchia was a 24 year old catcher with a career 251/314/389 line, good for an OPS+ of 83. Furthermore, Saltalamacchia’s skills behind the plate were not improving as the Rangers had hoped; making many wonder if he would ever develop into anything resembling what he displayed in 2005.
After the second game of the season, Saltalamacchia was placed on the DL with upper back stiffness. After being activated, Saltalamacchia was sent to the Rangers AAA affiliate, the Oklahoma City RedHawks, where he put up an unimpressive 248/319/453 line, displaying good power, some patience, and too much swing-and-miss. On July 31, the Rangers dealt Saltalamacchia to the Boston Red Sox for Chris McGuiness, Roman Mendez, Michael Thomas, and cash. Saltalamacchia spent the next month playing sparingly for the Pawtucket Red Sox (or, as they’re more commonly known, the PawSox) of the AAA International League, putting up a 278/350/500 line before being called up to Boston, where he put up a 158/360/316 line across 10 games.
In 2011, Saltalamacchia experienced a rebirth of sorts, putting up a 235/288/450 line as the Red Sox’s primary catcher, showing good power with 23 doubles and 16 home runs, but little patience (24 walks in 358 PA) and a lot of swing-and-miss (119 strikeouts, or more than 33% of his at bats).
The Red Sox were sufficiently pleased with his play that they signed him to a $2.5 million contract in the off season, thereby avoiding arbitration. Through September 13, Saltalamacchia has a 229/290/475 line with 15 doubles and 24 home runs for the Red Sox for 2012.
But what do we make of Jarrod Saltalamacchia? While he was once compared to Joe Mauer and Jason Varitek due to his sweet swing, good plate discipline, and power, Saltalamacchia’s ceiling may be more similar to a lower batting average version of Jorge Posada. Of course, any time a catcher can play good defense and put up near-league-average offensive numbers, that player can expect a long, prosperous career.
As for now, all we can do is say that Jarrod Saltalamacchia appears to be the perfect example of the “Post Hype Prospect,” a player who once showed the upside of a perennial All-Star, struggled, and has become at least a solid major league regular.
Until next time, follow me @HypeProspect.