FORT MYERS, Fla. – It seems as if a single adjective has been associated with strapping catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia throughout his life-long baseball career: potential.
Saltalamacchia’s potential for all things great was recognized very early when he played for Royal Palm Beach High School in West Palm Beach, Fla., and at eight Perfect Game tournaments and showcases in the early 2000s.
His potential was cited when he committed to college baseball powerhouse Florida State University in 2003 and again when the Atlanta Braves selected him in the first round of the 2003 MLB amateur draft with the 36th overall pick.
And Saltalamacchia’s seemingly unlimited potential was spoken of when he made his Major League debut with the Braves on May 2, 2007, and again when he was dealt to the Texas Rangers about three months later at the trading deadline on July 31, 2007.
But as Saltalamacchia opened 2012 spring training camp with the Boston Red Sox – his third MLB team in six years – he is yet to reach the potential many observers had penciled him in for. This is the season that potential could be realized.
The Red Sox have brought in new skipper Bobby Valentine and the Sox’s long-time catcher and team captain Jason Varitek announced his retirement just before spring camp opened. The starting catching job is Saltalamacchia’s to lose and he has no intention of letting that happen.
“It’s really going good,” Saltalamacchia said of the first two weeks of spring training while speaking from the Red Sox’s dugout at shiny new JetBlue Park before a recent Grapefruit League spring training game against the Tampa Bay Rays. “The guys are getting their work in and we’re getting to that point where we’re starting to put it all together now.”
This is the season Saltalamacchia, who is 26 and listed at 6-foot-4, 235 pounds, hopes to put it all together and realize the potential people have spoken of throughout his career. His biggest claim to fame so far was achieved when he made his MLB debut and became the player with the longest last name in Major League history.
Before that history-making moment, Saltalamacchia became almost without question the top prospect with the longest last name in Perfect Game history. Nicknamed “Salty,” Saltalamacchia made his PG debut in early June of 2001 at the Sunshine Showcase at Terry Park here in Fort Myers.
There was another young prospect at that showcase that went on to become a second round pick by the Cincinnati Reds and 2010 National League MVP by the name of Joey Votto.
After that initial showcase appearance in the summer just in front of his junior year in high school, a Perfect Game scout filed the following report:
“Jarrod caught only a few innings in Fort Myers, but it was enough to prove he is perhaps the top ‘03 catcher in the country. He has a major league body and he’s already close to major league average in arm strength. Add that he has big time power potential from the left and the right side, and you have one of the nation's top rising juniors. He also showed very well at Tropicana Field the next weekend.”
Note the “P-word” in that report.
Saltalamacchia did in fact attend the 2001 Perfect Game National Showcase the following weekend in St. Petersburg where he again stood out among the nation’s top prospects, and also attended the 2001 PG World Showcase at Terry Park. In mid-June of 2002 he performed at the Perfect Game National Top Prospect Showcase, also at Tropicana Field.
A PG scout continued to be impressed:
“Salty is one of the top catching prospects in his class,” the scouting report read. “Great body and big-time arm. He's a good athlete who can run a bit and play other positions. A switch-hitter with power makes him all the more intriguing. He does have some holes in his swing that need to be patched up. If he makes the repairs, he should be an early pick.”
Saltalamacchia was among some pretty heady company at the last two PG showcases he attended. There were 13 future first round picks at the 2001 PG National – counting Saltalamacchia – including Prince Fielder, Alex Gordon, Denard Span and B.J. Upton. First-rounders-to-be Chad Billingsley, Eric Hurley, Matt LaPorta, Lastings Milledge, Andrew Miller and Chris Perez joined Saltalamacchia at the 2002 PG National Top Prospect Showcase.
Saltalamacchia credits Perfect Game for helping him become a first round draft selection.
“At the time I was playing, Perfect game was really ‘it’,” he said. “Legion ball was kind of falling out so if (the scouts) didn’t see you during the (high school) season Perfect Game was the place to go. A lot of scouts got to see me and those were great events for me to go to.”
“Salty” spent parts of eight seasons in the minor leagues before becoming a full-time Major League player. He was traded to the Red Sox at the trading deadline on July 31, 2010, and played the closest he’s come to a full Major League season in 2011 when he played in 103 games for the Red Sox, starting at catcher in front of aging Varitek.
Saltalamacchia hit .235 with 16 home runs and 56 RBI in those 103 games, thanks mostly to a stretch in June and July when he hit .304 with a .918 OPS. He quit hitting in the season’s closing months as the Red Sox recorded the biggest collapse in MLB history, going 6-18 after Sept. 3 to blow a nine-game lead in the wild card standings.
Saltalamacchia wants no part of another epic collapse, not from a team standpoint or an individual one. It’s all about realizing one’s potential, first displayed at Perfect Game events in the early 2000s.
“If you don’t have any failure in this game, you probably haven’t played it long enough,” Saltalamacchia said while looking forward to showing the baseball world what he’s capable of in 2012. “I’ve had some ups-and-downs but I’m in a great place right now both mentally and physically and I’m with a great team. I really couldn’t ask for anything more.”