Saltalamacchia takes new approach
Catching prospect trying to focus on present, not future
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Nobody blamed Jarrod Saltalamacchia for coming to his first big-league camp with the intention of earning a quick call to the Majors. Despite having never played a game above the Class A level, his young legendary status had afforded him the right to possess even the most outlandish of dreams.
At 21 years old, he'd already established himself as one of the game's top catching prospects and it seemed likely that he'd soon follow in the footsteps of Chipper Jones and Jeff Francoeur, who had already earned Golden Boy status in Atlanta.
But one year later, as Saltalamacchia currently experiences his second big-league camp, he's come to the realization that it can be detrimental to solely focus on a big-league promotion, while losing focus of the need to continue natural development.
"I just think I might have been pressing too much," Saltalamacchia said while describing the troubles that led to him hitting just .230 with nine homers in 313 at-bats with Double-A Mississippi last year.
Instead of worrying about how to deal with the advanced level of pitching he was seeing in the Southern League, Saltalamacchia regularly found himself focusing on what events could allow him to earn an instant promotion to Atlanta.
When told that Saltalamacchia believes last year's struggles were a product of worrying too much about getting to the Majors, Braves bench coach Chino Cadahia responded, "there's no doubt about it."
Cadahia, who served as roving Minor League instructor last year, has played a part in the development such standout catchers as Pudge Rodriguez and Brian McCann.
While working with Saltalamacchia over the course of the past three seasons, he's come to the realization that he has the potential to be just as successful as these aforementioned two catchers.
"He's got all the tools in the world," Cadahia said. "He's got a great arm. When he focuses, he's a good receiver. He can block [pitches in the dirt]. He can hit. He's got all the potential in the world to be a front-line catcher. It's just a matter of getting experience and doing it on a consistent basis."
Consistency certainly wasn't a part of Saltalamacchia's game during the first three months of last season. His jumbled mental state combined with an ailing right wrist had this 6-foot-4, 230-pound switch-hitting catcher looking much more like a project than a prospect.
Through the end of June, he was hitting just .197 (47-for-239) and had collected just 16 extra-base hits (four homers). These weren't the results the Braves had projected when they took Saltalamacchia in the first round of the 2003 First-Year Player Draft.
Their projections were much more similar to the results he produced one year earlier at Class A Myrtle Beach, where hit .314 with 19 homers and a .519 slugging percentage.
Before going to play for the United States in an Olympic qualifying tournament, Saltalamacchia definitely turned things around. In his final 74 at-bats with Mississippi, he hit .338 with 12 extra-base hits, which included five homers.
"I think he was hurt longer than what he said," Cadahia said. "But he learned his lesson and he'll be better for it."
With McCann having already earned All-Star status, Saltalamacchia's future in Atlanta as a catcher appears cloudy. And if Scott Thorman lives up to expectations, the young catcher may never even be given a chance to be the Braves' first baseman.
Wanting to remain a catcher, Saltalamacchia is happy to know the Braves don't have any current plans to begin using him at first base or any other position. It's much more important to the organization to continue developing him as a catcher.
By doing so, they provide themselves with valuable insurance for McCann. And at the same time, they maximize the value he'd have on the trade market. His offensive capabilities as a catcher would be much more attractive than they would if he ended his development behind the plate.
"I've always wanted to be a catcher," Saltalamacchia said. "But if they say, 'This is the position you're going to be at,' or, 'This is what it's going to take to be there,' I'll say, 'OK.' I'm going to do whatever it takes to get to the Majors."
Before suffering a hamstring injury that shut him down, Saltalamacchia played six games in the 2006 Arizona Fall League. In that short span, he registered 13 hits, including three homers, in 23 at-bats.
By tasting success again in the AFL, Saltalamacchia further healed his fractured confidence and gained the belief that he's ready to test himself at the Major League level this year.
"I think it's a realistic goal," Saltalamacchia said. "I think I'm ready. It's just a matter of when my time comes."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.