Prospect Smackdown: Jeff Clement vs. Jarrod Saltalamacchia
Background and Intangibles
Clement: Jeff Clement was drafted in the first round in 2005, third overall, out of the University of Southern California. A high school star in Iowa, he set a record with 75 home runs in his high school career, and was one of the top power hitters in college during his career at USC. His defense drew mixed reviews, but his booming bat made him one of the elite players available in '05. An injury-plagued '06 season has hurt his stock slightly, but he's still one of the top catching prospects in the game. He's worked hard to improve his glovework, and his makeup is rated highly.
Saltalamacchia: Jarrod Saltalamacchia was drafted in the supplemental first round in 2003, 36th overall, out of high school in West Palm Beach, Florida. His bat was highly-regarded, but doubts about his defense kept him out of the regular first round. After a slow start in rookie ball and a decent-but-not-great 2004, Saltalamacchia broke out with a huge 2005 season, emerging as the best overall catching prospect in the baseball. However, an injury-plagued '06 hurt his stock slightly. Managers and coaches praise his work ethic, intelligence, and intangibles.
Advantage: Clement had a slightly higher profile as an amateur due to his high school exploits and college experience, but both players are well-regarded for their intangibles. Looks pretty even to me.
Physicality, Health, and Tools
Clement: Clement was born August 21, 1983. Listed at 6-2, 215 pounds, he is a lefthanded hitter and a righthanded thrower. His best tool is power: he has outstanding raw power, but is not a pure pull hitter and can drive the ball to the opposite field. His strike zone judgment can be erratic, but when everything is working he's difficult to fool and is not an all-or-nothing bat. On defense, he has a strong arm, but his footwork is mediocre and he'll never be a top-notch gloveman. This isn't for lack of effort; he's worked hard to refine his glove, and optimists believe that he'll be an average defender in the long run. Pessimists believe he'll have to move to first base eventually. Injuries were a major factor last year: he missed tome with a torn left meniscus in his knee, and then a bone chip in his elbow. The injuries likely impacted both his hitting and fielding.
Saltalamacchia: Saltalamacchia was born May 2, 1985. Listed at 6-4, 195 pounds, he is a switch hitter and righthanded thrower. He does not have as much pure power as Clement, but he certainly drives the ball well and has sound plate discipline. He struggled in his initial Double-A exposure last spring, in part due to injuries, but played better in the second half. On defense, he has a strong arm but his footwork can be erratic. Many scouts believe he'll be just fine with the glove, while others think he'll eventually have to move to first base. Some people were down on his defense in the Arizona Fall League, feeling that he had lost mobility and gained more weight than expected, while others thought the issue is overblown. A wrist injury sapped his offense at the beginning of last season, but as the season progressed his wrist improved.
Advantage: Both players had injuries which slowed their progress last year. Clement has more power potential according to scouts, but Saltalamacchia is hardly a slouch in that department and has better strike zone judgment. Both of them have work to do on defense; both may face a positional change down the road. Neither has any speed. Overall this looks even to me.
Performance and Polish
Clement: Clement came into 2007 with a career mark of .278/.348/.420. His performance last year was regarded as disappointing, but he was injured, and playing in Triple-A with only 45 games of lower-level experience on his resume. He's considered to be relatively polished with the bat, but in need of a more work on defense.
Saltalamacchia: Saltalamacchia came into 2007 with a career mark of .273/.370/.448 in 358 games. He's considered to be relatively polished with the bat, but in need of more work on defense.
Advantage: Direct statistical comparison is difficult, since most of Clement's numbers are in Triple-A and Salty hadn't reached that level yet. Also Clement was rushed to that level unadvisedly in my view. For what it is worth, PECOTA is much higher on Saltalamacchia than on Clement, although I'm not sure how much weight to give that given the injuries and sample size considerations. I think I will give Salty a slight edge here due to his superior strike zone judgment.
Clement: Clement projects as a .250-.270 hitter at the major league level with at least 20 homers in a full season, possibly 30 if the full expectations of scouts are met. This would have great value if he can remain at catcher, but not so much at first base.
Saltalamacchia: Salty projects as a. .250-.270 hitter at the major league level with 20-25 homers a season. This would be of great value if he can remain at catcher, but not so much at first base.
Advantage: Salty is younger so he has more projection at this point, which is a big part of what PECOTA gets at.
Summary : I rate them as even in background/intangibles, even on tools/physicality, with Salty having a slight edge in performance (although a direct comparison is problematic) and Salty having the edge in projection. So overall Saltalamacchia comes out a bit ahead, and this is reflected in their rankings on my Top 50 prospects list.