By R.J. Anderson //
As the offseason nears, it’s time to start compiling a list of 2012 players to keep your eyes on. Catcher is often one of the more difficult positions to find a worthwhile bat at, so any glimpses of good value should be treated with interest. Sometimes that can mean gambling on variables like playing time and continued player development. If you’re willing to do that, then add Jarrod Saltalamacchia to your list.
Not long ago, Saltalamacchia was a consensus top-50 prospect. Baseball America even ranked him in the top 20 prior to the 2006 season. He made his debut during the 2007 season before being dealt to the Rangers. From there, his struggles (including a battle with the yips) are well-established. His season with Boston, however, is giving everyone a new reason for hope, thanks to his .240/.295/.466 line and 16 home runs.
Power is the key to Saltalamacchia game, if that wasn’t evident, and he flashed plenty in recent months by slamming eight homers in July and August. The problem with Saltalamacchia is that he has issues putting the bat on the ball. His career strikeout rate is nearly 29 percent and he doesn’t walk enough (eight percent career) to post decent on-base percentages. Still, the ball can go a long way when he makes contact, and that makes him an attractive option.
Fueling the sex appeal is an increased output of power this season too. It’s not unexpected for a player moving into Fenway, but remember that Saltalamacchia played his home games in hitter-friendly Arlington prior to this season. Saltalamacchia is running a career-high ISO (.226; career: .164) and percentage of hits that go for extra bases (51 percent; career: 38 percent) during his age-26 season. Since players tend to begin their statistical peak around this time in their careers, it isn’t impossible to think Saltalamacchia’s power is a genuine skill set shift rather than a flash in the pan.
The other big concern for Saltalamacchia’s fantasy value, and the reason he isn’t owned in more than nine percent of ESPN leagues, is playing time. Jason Varitek is still getting reps, and that means Saltalamacchia’s value isn’t as high as it could be. Time is working against Varitek and you have to think the Red Sox are pondering what Saltalamacchia can do with even more plate appearances. Catchers with the potential to post 20-plus home runs and ISO well over .200 That’s why you should tuck him away for the 2012 draft.
For more on potential 2012 bargains, check out Bloomberg Sports.