Jarrod Saltalamacchia was supposed to be a star by now, but he's not. What's going on?
I did a "Not a Rookie" covering his minor league track record back in 2008, which you can read here. My conclusion was that, given proper adjustment time, Saltalamacchia would end up moving off the catching position and over to first base, He would be "a very good slugging first baseman, not developing into a big batting average guy (hitting .275 or so most seasons ) but producing plenty of power and a reasonable on-base percentage."
It hasn't turned out that way. Salty hit .253/.352/.364 in 61 games in 2008, then .233/.290/.371 in 84 games in 2009. HIs career mark now stands at .251/.314/.389 in 789 at-bats, certainly far less than the Rangers anticipated when they acquired him. Even the positional prediction hasn't turned out, as he caught 83 of 84 games last year.
Defensively, he's an okay but not outstanding defender on paper, throwing out 24% of runners last year. He doesn't give up a ton of passed balls (just two last year), but makes more errors than the average defender. Watching him on TV anyway, he looks like an okay gloveman. I would be interested in the impressions of Rangers fans who get to see him catch daily. From the look of the numbers there is no immediate reason to move him to first base, but he won't win any gold gloves either.
The bat is the question for me. People are disappointed in it, but maybe we should have expected this. His minor league track record showed mediocre hitting in rookie ball, decent-but-not-outstanding hitting in Low-A in '04, an excellent season in High-A in '05, then a terrible season in Double-A in '06. He hit well in 22 games back in Double-A in '07 and in 15 more Triple-A games in '08, but the sample sizes in both cases are small.
He's had significant issues with plate discipline in the majors. He essentially skipped Triple-A, and hasn't dominated any level besides the Carolina League in a full campaign. His career minor league slash line is .273/.370/.453, which is good but hardly spetacular for an elite prospect. In fact, aside from a terriffic season in '05, he never put up future-superstar type numbers in a full season of play. HIs career major league .251/.314/.389 isn't that far off what his MLEs indicate. It is possible that this is just the player he is, and that the Myrtle Beach numbers back in '05 were a fluke.
On the other hand, Salty turns 25 in May and is still young enough to develop. He has been hampered by injuries. That factor, combined with the fact that he skipped Triple-A, likely inhibited both his offensive and defensive development. But injuries are a common malady for catchers, and one that often stunts skill growth. I mentioned in my 2007 book that Saltalamacchia's shaky '06 season could be a sign of Young Catcher Stagnation Syndrome. If I had to bet money on it, my guess is that he'll have a couple of good seasons eventually, but that he'll never live up to the original hype, dragged down by the rigors of the position.