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$1 Catchers: Thole & Salty

Erik already introduced you to a pair of $1 catcher options yesterday, but let’s take a look at two more…

Josh Thole

After years of chasing after the likes of Bengie Molina, Yorvit Torrealba, and Rod Barajas under Omar Minaya, the Mets are finally slated to go with some youth behind the plate. After a September call-up in 2009, Thole was with the big boys for 227 PA last year, hitting .277/.357/.366 with a whopping three homers. I saw whopping because power is not the name of his game at all. His minor league career (1,733 PA) features just ten homers and just one season with more than two. His .092 ISO in the bush leagues is downright Rajai Davis-ian.

Of course power is traditionally the last tool to come and Thole didn’t turn 24 until this past October, though CitiField will not make life any easier. His value comes in the form of batting average and walks. A .289 career hitter (.326 BABIP) with more walks (197) than strikeouts (190) in the minors, Thole has done a decent job approximating that production in his limited action with the Amazin’s (.286 AVG, .313 BABIP). He’s a bat control freak, swinging and missing at just 3.9% of the pitches he’s seen, and his batted ball profile is conducive to a higher BABIP (25.2% LD, 44.7% GB, 30.1% FB).

The three projection systems we have here on the site all see Thole maintaining a batting average right around .280 with enough bases-on-balls to keep his on-base percentage in the mid-.300’s. Just ten backstops posted an OBP over .350 last year (min. 300 PA), but Thole has the skill set to do that for you on the cheap. Just remember, Ronny Paulino was brought in to serve as the team’s backup and figures to cut into Thole’s playing time against lefties, at least the tough ones.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia

The Red Sox finally got their man last summer, shipping a package of prospects to the Rangers for Salty, whom they have long coveted. His 2010 season was interrupted by back and leg and thumb ailments, and his bout with the yips has been well-documented. In between all that, Salty hit a) .167/.333/.292 in 30 PA for the Rangers and Red Sox, b) .244/.326/.445 in 270 PA for Texas’ Triple-A affiliate, and c) .278/.350/.500 in 40 PA for Boston’s Triple-A affiliate last summer.

Still just 25 years old (26 in May), all indications are that Saltalamacchia will be back from the thumb injury in time for Opening Day, prompting the Red Sox to pencil him in as their everyday backstop while Jason Varitek lurks in the shadows. His combination of power (.183 ISO) and patience (.372 OBP) are what made him the 36th best prospect in baseball in Baseball America’s eyes not long before he was traded from the Braves to the Rangers (in 2007), though injuries make it tough to know what Salty is capable of doing in 2011.

Luckily, he does have a few things going for him. First off all, that plate discipline hasn’t gone anywhere. His minor league walk rates are consistently over 10% in recent years, and he drew more walks that strikeouts in a tiny cameo with the Red Sox late last year (6 BB, 5 K in 25 PA). Secondly, he’s a switch hitter that has performed considerably better against righties (.335 wOBA) than lefties (.265 wOBA) in his young career, so he’d see the majority of the time in a potential platoon. Three (and I guess four), Fenway Park is a great hitter’s park, and the Red Sox are a great lineup for runs scored and RBI opportunities.

The big question here is health. Salty has managed more than 340 PA just once in the last five seasons, and that came three years ago now. Projections from Bill James and the fans either don’t know or don’t care about the injury history, because they have him coming to the plate 371 and 410 times in 2011, respectively. Marcel is the low man at 246 PA. All three project a .250-ish average while James and the fans like him enough to forecast double digit homers. Salty’s a solid upside play if he stays on the field, especially with all the team and run environment factors he has going for him.

Go here to submit your fan projections for Thole & Salty.