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Red Sox 2011 Catcher Preview: Jarrod Saltalamacchia & Jason Varitek

Jason Varitek and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)

Coming off myriad injuries and another notable sloooooooow Big Papi start in 2010, the 2011 Red Sox infield and DH situation is a mixed bag. It’s like a daring new dish that master chef Theo Epstein has concocted. It will most likely yield tasty results but we won’t know until we sit down to dinner.

A swirl of hope of a return to stability from players in their primes. Pepper in the return of two beloved veterans. Add a dash a new acquisition burdened with the heavy weight of The Nation’s expectations. Sprinkle in two youngsters: one a once can’t-miss prospect that could be categorized as has-been if he only ever-was and the other an intriguing ingénue who can’t stay on the field. Bake for 162 games.

We begin our week-long series of previews with the catcher position.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia

Judging by the boot camp-esque paces bullpen coach Gary Tuck has put him through this offseason, the obvious hope is that Jarrod Saltalamacchia can become a competent enough defensive catcher to give him at least 400 at bats. Salty (I can’t keep typing his full last name) is still young, he won’t turn 26 until May, but if he doesn’t seize the opportunity the Sox are giving him it will most likely be the last meaningful role on a contending team he will be afforded.

This crash course in catching scares me greatly. Salty has been a can’t-miss prospect that front offices have been drooling over for years that has never panned out (much like Rich Harden). If the kid can’t catch by this point is the light bulb going to suddenly flick on? Does Tuck posses some kind of rarified backstop pixy dust that no other coach does? This reminds me of when the Sox signed Julio Lugo to play shortstop and then immediately started retooling his fielding mechanics. We all know how that worked out.

Offensively, Salty has done next to nothing in the bigs. His rookie year, split between Atlanta and Texas, was his most productive (he rung up a .732 OPS in 329 plate appearances). It’s been all downhill from there. Add in the fact that he is returning from a thumb injury and nothing Salty has done inspires confidence. Less a sure thing than a precarious a roll of the dice, I think Theo is taking a crap in the wind on this one.

Jason Varitek

Luckily, the Sox resigned proud veteran Jason Varitek for one more go round. (What was that standing ovation last September all about? I want my goosebumps back! Also, check out this YouTube clip. I was unaware Tek had died.)  Though Tek slugged at a quite acceptable .473 last year, limiting his playing time is the only way to keep him productive at the plate. He only played in 39 games in 2010 but Francona won’t have the steady offensive production of Victor Martinez to rely on. I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of Tek than people are anticipating, which will lead to an inevitable decline in his numbers but will make the pitching staff happy. I’m also looking forward to Tek extending his lead in no-hitters caught. He currently sits atop the all-time list with four above, among other, Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella and Boston catcher-manager Bill “Rough” Carrigan, who have three apiece. If only Curt Schilling didn’t shake Tek off in Oakland.

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