Can Saltalamacchia Handle Pressure of Catching for Red Sox?

The emotional retirement of Jason Varitek means that the Boston Red Sox catching situation is clearly in the hands of Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

Potential is the word that has been most associated with Saltalamacchia throughout his career. Despite an enormous amount of it, the Atlanta Braves chose to move him and so did the Texas Rangers.

It just never came easy for him and even last year as the Red Sox No. 1 catcher, Saltalamacchia got off to a miserable start. It appeared that despite his tremendous physical ability, Saltalamacchia might not fulfill the promise that so many saw for him during his career.

Then came June and July, when Saltalmacchia finally got comfortable in the Red Sox lineup and began hitting the ball hard on a consistent basis. He hit .304 and had a .918 OPS during that period. The Red Sox hoped those two months would bring on some consistent play, but he slowed down at the finish. While the Red Sox were faltering in September - due mainly to a miserable performance by the pitching staff - Saltalamacchia stopped hitting.

As a result, the Red Sox don't know what they will get behind the plate during the 2012 season. Varitek has called it a career and veteran Kelly Shoppach signed a 1-year, $1.35 million contract in the offseason to serve as the backup. Under most circumstances when a team has a stud catcher entering his prime, he should start 130-to-140 games. Saltalamacchia played in 103 games last season and that's the most he's played in any season.

Shoppach might be the right backup for the Red Sox. He's the type who will gladly play when asked and doesn't seem to have many of the anxieties that Saltalamacchia carries around with him.

While the catching position is anything but secure for the Red Sox this year, the future may be quite bright. The Red Sox believe that September call-up Ryan Lavarnway will soon become an excellent big-league hitter and a decent receiver. Several teams had asked about Lavarnway in the offseason and those questions came at a more frequent rate after the New York Yankees traded their treasured catching prospect Jesus Montero to Seattle for right-handed pitcher Michael Pineda, but Ben Cherington was not about to let Lavarnway go.

Lavarnway appears to be nearly as good a hitting prospect as Montero and may turn out to be a better defensive catcher. Lavarnway is still learning the position, but he has made great strides as a receiver because his hands are more relaxed and his footwork is much quicker than it had been.

Manager Bobby Valentine is expected to start the season with two catchers on the roster. If he decides to go with three or one of top two suffers a setback or an injury, Lavarnway may get the call to stay with the varsity on a permanent basis.


Boston - Ryan Lavarnway catching on

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Updated Saturday, Mar 3, 2012