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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Nature vs. Nurture: A Salty Renaissance from the Cap's Mentoring

Poor old Jarrod Saltalamacchia. He is infamous for having the longest name on an MLB uniform ever (take that Nomar!), and perhaps even more infamous as the perfect example of a "can't miss" prospect, that just does. The crowning jewel of the Mark Teixeira trade, Salty has been rushed through the minors and hence has been seen as a resounding failure by the Texas front office, thus allowing Theo to swoop in and take him off their hands (looks like a robbery now if you consider that a couple years ago Texas was demanding at least Clay Buchholz) so now it appears he is having an offensive renaissance.

Salty is now a top ten catcher in the league, and really bolsters the bottom of the lineup while batting at either the seventh or eighth spot. Salty has a very powerful swing, evident to his twelve homers (and a broken bat homerun!), but it seems that due to this slugger mentality he is very prone to strikeouts (evidenced by an 85 K: 22 B ratio). He is still having a career year, with 13 of his 35 career homers being with the Sox, while having a serviceable slash line of .259/ .309/ .473/ .782. So, how did this happen?

Truthfully, Salty has shown that he is very capable of greatness, seen in the Texas Baltimore blowout (30-3) where Jarrod had two homers and seven rbi, and his rookie year with the Atlanta Braves (.284/ .333 / .411/ .745). Impressive, but due to an environment that had stifled him and set him up to fail, it was obvious that he needed a change in scenery and it seemed that much of his faults were due to his mentality and resolve, shaken by the tumultuous Rangers backstop position. What pushed him over this hump was our old veteran catcher, Captain Jason Varitek (having a good power year). It seems like Tek's mentoring and bond with Salty has allowed him to not only improve his plate discipline and pitch calling, but his mental issues as well. You see, before Saltalamacchia was the catcher he is today, he had a strange mental block that didn't allow him to throw the ball back to the pitcher smoothly. This strange quirk was resolved quickly thanks to the fabulous coaching staff, which also neatly ironed out kinks out of Salty's other flaws (not able to throw out baserunners with much proficiency or accuracy, despite a strong arm, owning the MLB record consecutive strikeout game streak for a position player with TWENTY EIGHT). Although Salty is by no means an All Star, he continues to improve greatly now that he recognizes his weaknesses and strengths and builds a gameplan for them.

Now, it appears Salty might be another rare case of a must see prospect with loads of talent that doesn't come through, through assistance, advice and apprenticeship, finds a way to be a driving force for his respective ballclub (to see an albeit bigger case, see Bautista, Jose). Does this mean that all highly touted prospects or ballplayers that didn't quite meet expectations will suddenly storm the league? No, but I feel that GMs have nothing to lose by trying to pickup these "duds". You never know when you find another diamond through the rough.