Stars of the AFL: Jarrod Saltalamacchia

How appropriate that a kid named Jarrod Saltalamacchia would have his breakout season in Rome. The Atlanta Braves Lo-A affiliate is in the states of course, but that's where this young catcher, with the Italian-as-it-gets name, hit .272 with 10 homers and stellar defense behind the dish. In a system full of talented catchers Saltalamacchia is quickly rising to the top. In a FREE PREVIEW OF PREMIUM AFL CONTENT talks to the top catching prospect in the league.

He did it again this season at Hi-A Myrtle Beach, and it became official, Jarrod Saltalamacchia is a legit catcher. His arm strength and footwork are above average, his .314/19/81 showed the average is getting better and the power is for real, and after all, when coaches, other players, and front office personnel in the Arizona Fall League casually refer to you as the 'priority catcher,' you're doing something, check that, several things right.

"I guess," Saltalamacchia says with a shrug when the 'priority catcher' tag is brought up, "I don't worry about ratings or rankings, I go out and play my game. Just because somebody tells me I'm a priority, it doesn't matter, my decisions are going to be the same. I'm going to come out here and work hard and have fun."

He turned 20 years old back in May, and with Brian McCann and Johnny Estrada already up and producing with the big league club, it's unlikely that Saltalamacchia is headed to the big dance anytime soon, but he's a bright shining diamond in a farm system filled with gems. For Saltalamacchia that extra time is just what the doctor ordered.

"There's a huge focus on catching in this system," Saltalamacchia says, "You look at the pitchers who are coming through this system, and if you're going to catch there, you have to be able to catch the nasty stuff."

He's got the tools, and the time, to learn.

"Because the pitching is so good, you get the best coaches and the best roving instructors coming through, and they will help you. It's been good for me because at the lower levels the stuff the pitchers are throwing isn't the crazy stuff I'll see near the top of the organization. I get to learn how to catch now, and then I can start dealing with the movement of those nasty pitchers."

Yes, he used the word 'nasty' twice in a paragraph, but that's his style as well. 'Salty' as everybody around here calls him, can apparently live up to the nickname, and wasn't kidding when he said he was down here, "having fun." He's also soaking in as much knowledge as he can.

"I'm one of the youngest guys down here, and I can talk to guys like Casey Daigle, who have been in the big leagues, and learn a lot from them. About how to call a game, what to look for at the plate, just how to act."

He gets a lesson in 'how to act' from Daigle right on cue. Just as Saltalamacchia is finishing his praise of the Diamondbacks right hander, Daigle sneaks up behind him and pours a cup of water down his back. There are threats made, complaints about the water's temperature, and then an apology, all the while Daigle laughs about 10 feet away.

"I'm down here to have a good time," he smiles, checking over his shoulder to make sure Daigle hasn't reloaded, "I'm becoming a better hitter, I'm learning about how to call pitches, what works and what doesn't. I'm learning a lot about location, and how important it is not just to call the right pitch, but to call for it in the right spot," he checks again, the coast is clear. "I'm not worrying about time, I'm worried about quality."

And right now, he's also worried about getting soaked.

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