Posted: 9:46 am Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

Is this the year Jarrod Saltalamacchia breaks out? 

By Matt Porter

Former Royal Palm Beach star Jarrod Saltalamacchia has had his share of baseball-related troubles in the past few seasons. The Boston Red Sox hope he forgets them this year.

ESPN.com

ESPN.com

A first-round draft pick of the Atlanta Braves in 2003, the 25-year-old switch-hitting catcher has battled injuries and a case of the yips, that mysterious disease that renders sufferers unable to make the simplest of throws.

Saltalamacchia (left) appeared in two games last season for the Rangers, before he was dealt July 31 to the Red Sox for a player to be named later and two minor-leaguers. He hit .167 in 24 plate appearances.

In October, Boston signed him to a one-year, non-guaranteed contract. The deal will pay him $750,000 in the major leagues and $250,000 in the minors.

The Red Sox have coveted Saltalamacchia for several seasons, and general manager Theo Epstein said at baseball’s winter meetings that they’re satisfied using him as their everyday backstop. In an article posted on Sunday, the Boston’s Globe’s Nick Cafardo writes that Salty could be a surprise for the Sox:

On the catching side, general manager Theo Epstein is taking the chance that Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s enormous upside will finally surface, especially his offense, which so many baseball scouts believed would be his strength.

The Sox are taking the approach that as long as his defense is sound, whatever he gives them offensively will be a bonus. But that’s not why Saltalamacchia was drafted in the first round. He was supposed to be a switch-hitting catcher with power.

Now that he’s conquered his throwing disorder and his thumb injury has healed, that offensive talent may blossom.

“If it’s going to happen for him, it going to happen now,” said one of Saltalamacchia’s former teammates. “He’s gone through his rough spots, had his injury issues and problems, and now he seems to be over everything and on a good team where he doesn’t have to feel the pressure. I think you’re going to see whatever it is Salty is going to become this year.

“The Red Sox may have timed this whole thing perfectly, but I know Salty has worked really hard and he wants to be what everyone thought he should be. The fact he hasn’t yet, I’m sure eats at him because he’s so competitive and cares so much. So now we’re going to see.”

The Gary Tuck-Jason Varitek mentoring has worked well. Tuck has worked with Salty in Florida this offseason; at one point, he worked him so hard that Tuck called manager Terry Francona to tell him he should check in with Saltalamacchia after a pretty intense workout to make sure he was OK.

“The workouts have been great,” said Saltalamacchia, “I’ve gotten so much out of them.”

The Red Sox visit Jupiter twice during Spring Training, playing the Cardinals March 8 and the Marlins March 24 at Roger Dean Stadium.