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Saltalamacchia prepared for ‘fresh start’

08.06.10 at 10:34 am ET
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After being traded from the Texas Rangers organization in a July 31 deadline deal, Jarrod Saltalamacchia was ready to pack up his bags and move towards a fresh start with the Red Sox system with the man who had just given him a new opportunity, Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein. The GM kept his conversation brief — there was still time left before the deadline to make additional moves that never transpired — but two words summarized the call.

“Big plans.”

Epstein isn’t the only one with high expectations for the catcher who was named at one point the best prospect in the Atlanta system and was long considered one of the premier catching prospects in the game. Red Sox fans remember these labels and almost immediately pointed to Saltalamacchia as the catcher of the future before he had even taken a swing for the Sox’ Triple-A affiliate in Pawtucket.

But Saltalamacchia’s troubles behind the plate are also well-documented. He’s known in some circles as “the guy who can’t throw back to the pitcher.” That’s led others to question his value as a catcher at the major-league level.

One thing is for sure. The 25-year-old switch-hitter is willing to do anything and play anywhere if it means getting another taste of the big leagues, where he’s played 241 games.

“Whatever they want me to be. They want me to move to another position, I will. They want me to catch, I will. I have to be ready to do whatever they want me to do,” Saltalamacchia said.

With rumors swirling that the Red Sox need a lefty bat at first given the recent news that Kevin Youkilis will be out for the remainder of the season, there are several who want to point the finger at Saltalamacchia as the solution over potential MLB targets like Casey Kotchman or Carlos Delgado. He has played 38 games at the position as a major leaguer in the past.

He certainly proved he can fulfill the hitting aspect of the position Thursday night (a 5-0 win against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees no less) in just his second start for the PawSox. After starting 0-for-6 with the PawSox, Saltalamacchia doubled twice, once with a shot to the gap in right-center and the other a poke down the left-field line, in a game where he recorded his first hit, extra-base hit, RBI, run and multi-hit game as a member of the Red Sox organization. That performance didn’t come against just anybody either. His RBI double in the sixth inning came against Yankees prospect Ivan Nova, who entered the contest third in wins and ERA in the International League.

“It was nice to see [him get his first hits],” PawSox manager Torey Lovullo said. “We’re very well aware that he’s an offensive catcher. He comes in with a reputation of putting the bat on the ball so we knew that would come. We just wanted him to acclimate to his surroundings.”

And a catcher he will most likely stay, despite his ability to play first. The Red Sox have no immediate plans at this time to move Saltalamacchia out of his original position, according to the GM.

“We want to focus on his catching and try to get the most out of him so he can reach his potential as a defensive catcher,” Epstein told Boston reporters Thursday.

Saltalamacchia certainly has been traded into a good situation here in Boston if his track to the major leagues is as a catcher. Red Sox bullpen coach Gary Tuck, who also serves as the organization-wide catching instructor at spring training, is considered one of the best at his craft in the business, and the Sox newest acquisition is looking forward to working with him whenever he can.

“I’ll probably work with Tuck during the offseason, toward the end of the season, whatever happens,” Saltalamacchia said. “He’s great at what he does. He’s one of the best. I’m just excited to get over here and work with everybody.”

Down in Pawtucket, Saltalamacchia has already shown in flashes that he has what it takes to get the job done behind the dish. PawSox pitchers have tossed shutouts in both of the games that he has put down fingers so far, and that is not lost on his current manager.

“He does a good job of following the game plan,” Lovullo said. “He’s got a nice presence back there. It’s not by accident. A catcher catches shutouts, he’s doing something right. You’ve got to give the pitchers all the credit, but Salty’s doing a good job of working with his pitchers.”

No matter position whether he continues to work with pitchers down the line or takes his hacks as a first basemen or even designated hitter, Salty has one goal and one goal only: make the big club in any capacity he can.

“I’d like to [make the big leagues next year], but you have to take it one day at a time obviously,” Saltalamacchia said. “I have a fresh start over here. Expectations are high for me. I want to make the team and just help out any way I can.”

Pawtucket notes: Lovullo said that there are no plans currently in place to send either Michael Bowden or Felix Doubront back up to the majors as relievers in time for this weekend’s series in the Bronx. Bowden closed out the PawSox victory Thursday with two strikeouts to go along with a hit and a walk in the ninth. He hit as high as 93 on the gun in that inning. … Josh Reddick was 2-for-4 with a run scored. He’s hitting .513 (20-for-39) with a slugging percentage of .872 in his last nine games for the PawSox. For reference on just how hot the streak is, he’s only hitting .246 with a slugging percentage of .427 for the season at Triple-A. … Ryan Shealy and Aaron Bates both hit two-run home runs to guide the team to its 5-0 win.

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