Boston Red Sox 2011 Preview: Catchers and Designated Hitter

By Brian Maloney

Our fourth installment of previewing the Boston Red Sox continues. Here is Brian’s thoughts and analysis on both the cacther position and designated hitter.

Catchers:

The Red Sox decided as soon as Victor Martinez left the team that Jarrod Saltalamacchia was going to be the starting catcher for the 2011 season.  “Salty” has been on General Manager Theo Epstein’s radar for years and Epstein was finally able to acquire him last season. Saltalamacchia has shown the ability to rake at the plate, yes, but defensively his game has been severely lacking.  He even had to be sent back to the minors for a Major League 2-type reason: he couldn’t throw the ball back to the pitcher.

The Sox are banking on the fact that under the tutelage of Jason Varitek, Saltalamacchia will get the yips out of his game enough that his bat can be in the lineup every day.  Varitek figures to get a start or two a week this season.  The team knows what they have with Varitek: a serviceable backup who knows what he’s doing.  Varitek will essentially be a player/coach this season, contributing where he can, being on the roster more for his understanding of the game at this point in his career.

The Sox additionally have two young catchers on the 40-man roster in Mark Wagner and Luis Exposito.

Wagner will start the season in Pawtucket, and assuming that he does not come out of the gates flat, he will make his debut in Boston at some point this season.  Wagner is a great defensive catcher, with gap power that seems to be designed for Fenway.

Exposito projects to be better than Wagner in the long run, but he is a year or two behind in his development.  Exposito has all the ability to be an everyday major league catcher, but could use a year or more in the minors for seasoning and fine-tuning.

The Sox always bring in a veteran catcher on a minor league deal, and this year Paul Hoover gets the call.  Hoover is a journeyman with MLB experience and he could be called upon if the team decides that either of the young catchers is not ready.

A little bit farther down the roster is Ryan Lavarnway, who along with Exposito may be the most likely to be a long-term choice in Boston.  Lavarnway ended last season in Portland, and will probably begin this year there as well. His future is based on how he develops over the next few years, as he has only been a full-time catcher since 2007. His raw ability is there, his brain is there; the Sox just have to teach him to put it all together.

Starter: Jarrod Saltalamacchia

Backup:  Jason Varitek

40-Man Roster:  Mark Wagner and Luis Exposito

Hot Prospect(s):  Ryan Lavarnway, Paul Hoover and Luis Exposito

Designated Hitters:

The DH position will be surprisingly fluid this season.  Of course, David Ortiz is the number one option here, but he will have to show that he can still hit to keep it.  Another slow start to the season for Big Papi could end his tenure as the DH very quickly.

Mike Cameron could see a lot of time as the DH against left -handed pitchers as well.

Expect it to be a 70-30 split as the everyday DH for these two players.  However, there are bats all over this lineup.  It would not be surprising if, instead of a day off, position players got occasional days in the lineup as the DH.

Players like Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia could all see a few games here to give the DH’s a breather.  We won’t go in depth to potential minor league call-ups here, as realistically, nobody will get called solely to be the DH.

Starter:  David Ortiz

Potentials:  Mike Cameron, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia

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