It’s been a long road to relevance for Jarrod Saltalamacchia. The former two-time Baseball America top-100 prospect was touted with the Braves, but failed to develop with the Rangers. By the time he was shipped to the Red Sox, Saltalamacchia was an after-thought. There was little reason to be excited about a 26-year-old former prospect who had shown little in the majors. Despite that, the Red Sox decided to give him a more substantial role than his previous teams. The move paid off, as Salty turned in the finest seasons of his career and a useful fantasy catcher. After the finest season of his career, Saltalamacchia will have to prove his new-found usefulness will last.
Since he’s joined Boston, Saltalamacchia has emerged as a part-time power threat. He’s hit 55 home runs in a limited amount of plate appearances over the past three seasons. The problem, at least from a fantasy perspective, is that Saltalamacchia’s average has been borderline unplayable until 2013. While his gains in that area were nice, they aren’t exactly sustainable. Saltalamacchia’s .372 BABIP won’t last, and he’s probably going to see his average fall back to pre-2013 levels. Even with that in mind, it’s hard to ignore the growth Salty experienced with the Red Sox.
But was it enough? When compared to similar players at his age, Saltalamacchia doesn’t exactly stand out. For the most part, the list is littered with extreme power hitters like Jim Thome, Adam Dunn and Chris Davis. While Saltalamacchia’s recent power-surge has been impressive, it doesn’t put him in their company. Even the presence of Mark Trumbo is deceptive. Trumbo has accrued those stats in just two seasons. He will be 28 next year, and should take a big lead on Saltalamacchia in home runs. It’s helpful, however, to look at some of the most similar players to Saltalamacchia and how they performed at age-29.
The list actually isn’t all that helpful. Both Dave Kingman and Pete Incaviglia saw big improvements in their numbers. Kingman was already a superior power hitter, and his age-29 improvement had a lot to do with BABIP luck. Incaviglia actually isn’t a terrible example of what could happen if things break right for Salty going forward. Jose Hernandez and Will Venable are also decent comps. Hernandez continued to be useful, while Venable finally took a step forward at age-29. Bill Hall and Kurt Abbott represent the downside. Both players fell back into reserve roles at age-29.
Even if we take the easy way out and put Saltalamacchia somewhere in the middle of that group, it still leaves us with a flawed fantasy catcher. Salty doesn’t hit for enough power to support his approach at the plate. And if he’s only hitting .220, his 15 home runs are going to be tough to tolerate. With the Red Sox, Saltalamacchia emerged as a useful, semi-regular who could hit for some pop. After a superficially good walk year, fantasy owners shouldn’t treat him as anything more than that.
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