After hearing the Red Sox pitchers talk about it, you wouldn't know the catcher position remains one of the biggest question marks on a retooled squad heading into the 2011 season.
As Spring Training gets underway and people in Boston are left to daydream of warmth and baseball, the Sox hurlers have spent their time heaping praise on expected starter Jarrod Saltalamacchia, rewarding him with the highest possible compliment to give a Beantown backstop.
They're comparing him to Jason Varitek.
Josh Beckett got the ball rolling in that regard, comparing Saltalamacchia—who reportedly spent the bulk of his offseason emulating "Tek" while studying and working with Gary Tuck—to the Captain.
And then came Jon Lester, who had the following to say in an interview on NESN.com.
"I think he reminds me of Tek," Lester said. "He's got that presence about him. When he talks you listen and I don't know if that's because he's a big son of a gun or what, but he comes out there and says something, you listen to what he says."
This, of course, is great news—if the pitchers are right. Remember, Jason Varitek had done little to earn anyone's trust as a full-time starter when he took the reins in Boston, and he's two-thirds of the way to having a statue of himself erected outside of Fenway Park.
The bottom line remains that Saltalamacchia remains one of the great unknowns of 2011. Will he finally fulfill the potential that has made him one of the longest-hyped prospects in recent memory, or will he continue to prove that he's little more than a light-hitting reserve?
The early returns from Spring Training have to count for something. The Red Sox pitchers are used to having a sturdy backstop behind the plate, and if they are comfortable with Salty, that's good enough for me. Remember, Victor Martinez was not widely regarded as a great receiver, even prompting Beckett to essentially tab Varitek as his personal caddy. If Saltalamacchia is earning the trust of the staff, that's as good a start as any.
Here are the facts. Saltalamacchia has yet to prove for a full season that he can handle full-time catching duties. He hasn't been hailed as a strong defensive player, suffered through a bizarre case of the yips and has failed to come anywhere close to the productive power hitter he was projected to be.
But here are the possibilities. He's just 25, he's finally out of Texas (where all the expectations followed him like a shadow) and he may possibly have walked into the perfect apprenticeship for a young catcher. Jason Varitek is essentially a coach on the 25-man roster and Saltalamacchia has a wealth of knowledge to absorb.
By all accounts, he's already absorbing it. He has reportedly been spending time with the pitching staff after workouts, trying to get to know them all on a deeper level and the pitchers have given him the thumbs up less than a week into Spring Training.
What's more, he's in a lineup where any offensive production will be considered gravy. He doesn't have to produce for the Sox to be formidable. Is it conceivable, then, for him to finally blossom into the 20-plus homer guy many thought he always would be?
I say yes.
Nobody is predicting an All-Star season out of Saltalamacchia, and there will no doubt be something of a dropoff from the Martinez production Sox fans have become used to.
I'm willing to bet Saltalamacchia will turn in a strong enough season to make people forget that they spend most of the days leading up to Spring Training debating the catcher position.
And it sounds like most of the Red Sox pitchers agree.
The results will tell the true story soon enough, but that's about as ringing an endorsement as you can ask for at this stage of the game.