WTNYJuly 18, 2006
Too Little Salty
By Bryan Smith

Fact: In the prospect world, there is no one that creates more polarity than Jarrod Saltalamacchia. It isn't very close.

In a few popular midseason rankings, I have seen everything from Salty's ranking. He's been in the top 25 in one, to near the bottom of a top ten in catchers rankings. Jarrod was at 75 on my own list, and other sites would likely leave him out of the top 100.

If nothing else, Saltalamacchia represents one huge issue facing those who rank prospects: fish or cut bait?

After a good season as a teenager in the South Atlantic League in 2004, many (not including myself, unfortunately) predicted Salty would break out the next season. Scouts raved about Salty's bat, which only shined at times, but winced at his defense. With Brian McCann shining ahead of him in the system, Salty was a second tier prospect for the system.

Things changed last season, dramatically, when the catcher succeeded at one of the minor league's most difficult stadiums. Showing power that rivaled the best in the minors, projecting better offensive numbers for Salty than McCann was a common practice. Johnny Estrada was out the door, this we knew, but who was the right person to project as the Braves backstop?

Thanks to good defense in his Major League cup of coffee, along with solid offensive numbers, most people (this time including myself, thank you) went with Brian McCann. The Braves felt confidence in the slugger's ability to call a game, and didn't hesitate to start the season with him behind the plate. But they were prepared to have a problem of depth, surely the game's best problem to have.

Obviously, this season has not gone to plan. Saltalamacchia has hovered around the Mendoza Line for much of the season; his season numbers are among the worst of any full season qualifier in professional baseball. But in each quote, the catcher has maintained one fact: he's turned his focus from offense to defense this season. We have seen results, as I noted last week, as Salty's caught-stealing numbers are at a career high.

However, no team can employ a catcher with a sub-.600 OPS, no matter how good his defense is. Offensively, there have not even been the faintest signs of upside; Baseball America has reported scouts claim Salty looks lost at the plate. At the same time, McCann has predictably risen as one of the NL's better catchers; surely a player the Braves want for much of the next decade.

Surely the question most commonly circulating through the Braves player development channels is what method should the team take next to solve the catcher's problems. Do you put him at DH the rest of the season, and force him to tackle offense with the effort he's put on his ability to catch? If so, are you ready to accept Salty's future does not lie behind the plate? The Braves aren't, and have shown much in allowing Jarrod to stay behind the plate, and in AA this season.

In my latest rankings, I did not have Chris Iannetta ranked ahead of Saltalamacchia. Iannetta is in the midst of his own breakout season, poised to catch for the Rockies as early as 2007. His bat was better than both Ian Stewart and Troy Tulowitzki in AA Tulsa, and his defense is better than Salty's. How?

Hope. The Braves need to make a change with Saltalamacchia, and should likely finish the season with something dramatic. But the player we saw last season cannot be simply lost. The Braves must now find him, and when they do, we'll see that Salty deserved to be ranked among the game's top 100 prospects, if not in the top quarter.


I think it's smart list-making to bump him down significantly. Nobody thinks he's finished yet, but the Top 75 should be for the flashiest of the flashiest, and that does not include Saltalamacchia at this point. Look at Rotoworld's Top 150 prospects list, if you had a great year a few years ago you're still on there. Eric Duncan is still high on their lists! I don't always agree with what's written on here but I think Baseball Analysts puts together a better prospects ranking than Rotoworld, Jon Mayo, Dayn Perry and Foxsports (who ranked Jake Fox as a better prospect than Chuck James, ha), etc. The last offseason list on here I agreed with more than John Sickels'.

I didn't agree with the Iannetta ranking but I don't think it's absurd to give Saltalamacchia a little more leeway considering he still takes his walks and he's in a good organization - if this were the Reds or Cubs I'd say all bets are off.

What can the Braves do that qualifies as "dramatic"? Sending him back down to Myrtle Beach would be dramatic, but even if he does hit there what would that prove -- he's already shown he can hit in A, he needs to hit in AA. As for the DH, he can only do that about half of the time in the Southern League, so that might not really be "dramatic". What are their other options? Hope?

Salty still draws walks (36 in 249 AB this season), plays plus defense, and is still just 21. It is absurdly early to give up on him.

Also, there won't- or at least shouldn't- be room in Myrtle Beach for him. Max Ramirez is hitting 285/ 408/ 449 in Rome, and is ready for promotion.

it seems strange but i'm actually encouraged by how bad his numbers are. if they were just mediocre, you would think he wasn't handling the level - pitchers had found a hole, or he couldn't hit a real breaking ball, something like that. but the collapse has been so complete it makes me think there's some kind of acute problem with him - an injury, or his mechanics are messed up, or he's psyching himself out somehow. and those are all reversible problems. it makes it look like a flawed season, as opposed to a flawed player, if you know what i mean.

course i'm making that up.

Salty's been injured this year. While that doesn't explain everything, I believe that now that he's feeling better, he'll start to hit better.

Max Ramirez is hitting .285/.408/.449 in Rome, and is ready for promotion.

Or for trade!

This affirmations are very odd