It's that time of year again. The time when managers pull out their stat sheets, turn on the computer and enjoy the smell of virtual hot dogs, peanuts and beer (okay, maybe not that).
It's fantasy baseball season.
Neither are particularly leviathan in their projected fantasy outlook for next season; they aren't at the top of anyone's cheat sheet.
Moreover, the pair are interesting bubble candidates; not necessarily players you should draft, but players you should certainly keep an eye on.
For starters, they share a number of desirable fantasy traits. They both play in shallow positions (shortstop/second base for Lowrie, catcher for Saltalamacchia), and they both figure to be part of one of the better offenses in the game, giving them a greater chance at accumulating runs and RBI.
However, there are a few things that separate the two. Let me start by examining Lowrie.
Injury-plagued season after injury-plagued season, the 26 year-old Lowrie finally showed why exactly the Red Sox have so much faith in him.
The beneficiary of a depleted team falling fast in the playoff race, Lowrie got ample playing time during the final two months of the 2010 campaign.
In 197 PA, he finished with 9 HR, 24 RBI and a .287/.381/.525/.907 slash line. The sample size is small, but he certainly did a number of great things at the plate.
For starters, he improved his career HR/PA ratio from 1.1 percent (2008-2009) to 4.4 percent in 2010. That's going from a HR every 96 at-bats during his first two seasons to a HR every 22 at-bats last year.
What accounts for this surge in power? In my opinion, it's the fact that his wrist (which he's struggled with during his professional career) was finally healthy, allowing him to fully drive the ball.
Lowrie also posted a .381 OBP and a 12.7 BB percentage, which are more in tune with his career minor league averages (.380 OBP, 13.3 BB percentage) over a much larger sample size.
But what do all these numbers really mean? When it boils down to it, Lowrie proved last season he can be comfortable in his approach on the big league level, and given a clean bill of health, he can be very effective.
For fantasy purposes, Lowrie is invaluable in the sense that he's qualified in two scarce positions (second and short) and could be qualified in another two (first and third) before the season's end.
This year, shortstop is a nightmare (especially in AL-only formats); unless you happen to own Troy Tulowitzki or Hanley Ramirez, nothing is guaranteed. Jose Reyes, Jimmy Rollins and Derek Jeter form the barely-palpable second tier of shortstops, and none of those three inspire much confidence in their owners.
There will be many owners looking to pass on spending a high pick on a shortstop this year and rightfully so. Other than Tulo and Han-Ram, investing a pick in the first four or five rounds on a shortstop could prove to be a big mistake.
So, naturally, there will be many a manger looking to scrape the bottom of the barrel when it comes to value.
Considering the lack of depth at the six hole, Lowrie could certainly be a dark horse candidate for value pick of the year. The only thing standing in his way is the incumbent shortstop in Boston, Marco Scutaro, and questions of how exactly the Sox plan on using Lowrie.
It seems as if he'll at least start the season as the team's super-utility man, filling the void left by Bill Hall. But, given his production during the final months of 2010, it might be hard to justify not having his bat in the lineup on a consistent basis if he were to replicate last year's success.
If an injury were to open up consistent playing time for Lowrie, or if he just flat-out wins the job, I think he should be considered "ownable" in all formats. His position eligibility makes him a nice late-round flier in deeper formats and a definite watch-list addition in all formats once the season starts.
Saltalamacchia, on the other hand, differs from Lowrie in that we know he's going to get the majority of the starts behind the plate for the Red Sox this year.
And if you are unable (or unwilling) to nab the Mauers, Poseys and V-Marts of the fantasy world, you could also find yourself looking for a bargain behind the plate.
This spring, Salty has been busy developing relationships with the members of his team, especially the staff for which he will be responsible. Everything I've heard and read from the players is full of nothing but praise for his work ethic and improvements behind the plate.
Yet, while Salty might be a solid player for the Red Sox in 2011, that doesn't necessarily mean his fantasy impact will be better or worse than expected.
Maybe it's a cop-out, but I think it's nearly impossible to predict what Salty will do offensively in 2011, as he's never really been in a situation like this before.
His MLB service time has been sporadic at best, and he's never been outright handed a starting job like he has with the Red Sox.
He could take the job and run with it, finally living up to (or at least exceeding) everyone's expectations for him. He could be hitting .230 in July, but we just don't know because his situation this year is so radically different than any other he's been in during his career.
We do know this, though: he's 25 and still young. He's a switch-hitter who is going to get a career high in at-bats (barring injury), near the bottom of what will likely figure to be one of the best lineups in baseball.
He seems to be having a great camp so far, and expectations for him offensively will be relatively pressure free.
I'm not predicting a breakout season, but I wouldn't be surprised if that's what happened. I think in his case, it's best to take a wait-and-see approach. If you want him in a fantasy draft, he'll be available to you (he's ranked 1032 in Yahoo fantasy baseball leagues). In all likelihood, he won't be drafted in most formats, so he'll be available on the waiver wire once the season begins.
I think most managers should at least keep an eye on Salty. His youth and his stake in the Red Sox make him a definite player to watch during the 2011 season.
Dan is a Boston Red Sox featured columnist. Follow him on twitter @danhartelBR.