Minor League Prospect Report: Tyler Saladino, SS, Chicago White Sox
Chicago White Sox infield prospect Tyler Saladino had a very good 2011 season, hitting .270/.363/.501 with 16 homers in 102 games for Winston-Salem in the High-A Carolina League. He entered 2012 with two large questions to answer: would he show the same type of power in Double-A, and would his defense be good enough for him to stick at shortstop? Let's see if we have any answers.
First, the bat.
Saladino finished with a .237/.359/.321 line in 467 at-bats for Double-A Birmingham. He didn't demonstrate the power he showed in '11, hitting only four homers, four triples, and 15 doubles. He was even worse during a 14-game August trial with Triple-A Charlotte: .224/.296/.265 with four walks and 16 strikeouts in 49 at-bats. There are two notable splits in his Double-A line: he had a reverse platoon effect, posting a .701 OPS against right-handed pitching but just .615 against lefties. Secondly, he really struggled at home in Birmingham, hitting a mere .206/.329/.251. On the road, he was a bit more respectable at .265/.386/.384, still not great but not as disastrous.
Oftentimes, when a player struggles with the transition to Double-A, you see a big deterioration in their plate discipline. However, that's not what happened here: he actually drew 79 walks in 564 plate appearances (14%) this year, compared to 51 in 464 (11%) last season. His strikeout rate was virtually unchanged.
His power disappeared however: he lost 152 points of Isolated Power. On the other hand, he made much better use of his speed, swiping 39 bases in 47 attempts; he was just 7-for-14 in 2011.
So here we have a guy who lost all of his power despite gaining some patience. What do we make of it? To tell the truth, I'm not sure. Scouting opinion regarding his bat in 2011 was mixed: his production in A-ball was certainly respected, but some scouts felt his swing was too long and that he wouldn't produce as much against advanced pitching. Those worries seem borne out, although given the fact that he maintained some command of the strike zone, I wouldn't give up on him just yet.
Defensively, he played 107 games at shortstop this year and 21 games at second base. The consensus here is that he has a strong arm but that his ranged is stretched at short; he's playable there but won't win awards. He's better at second base, where he's proven very reliable in his brief action at the position. He hasn't played third base in pro ball, but scouts seem to think that he could handle the position if asked.
Overall, Saladino didn't have a great year by any means, although I don't think it was a complete disaster. He made some progress proving himself defensively, and he really improved his baserunning. The 6-1, 185-pound right-handed hitter is 23 now and needs to pick up the hitting pace in 2013. Expectations need to be tempered, but he still presents enough skill that we need to track him.