Operating in the shadows is something Saladino has become accustomed as a minor leaguer since 2010, when he was drafted by the White Sox in the seventh round, but he went even more underground last year when he suffered an elbow injury.
While playing left field for the Triple-A Charlotte Knights, Saladino wound up and made a throw that wasn’t unlike any of the others made on a field every day. Except this one left its mark.
“It was immediate,” Saladino said. “I was playing the infield all year last year with no arm problems. I’ve never had arm problems. I always felt fine. It was just one hard throw from the outfield. There was a lot more force, or strain than you usually put on it, and that’s all it took, I guess.”
To Saladino’s credit, he threw out the runner at the plate. Even more to his credit was that he hung around for a couple more games as the designated hitter before going on the disabled list. He eventually underwent Tommy John surgery, ending his season.
The cruel twist to the story was that the injury cost Saladino an appearance in the Triple-A All-Star Game, an honor he earned for his play at shortstop.
An August Tommy John surgery figured to keep Saladino out of action until April, but he crushed those estimates by being ready to play at the start of spring training. He is in big league camp and already has seen Cactus League action at third base and shortstop for the White Sox. He has not seen action in the outfield.
Those outfield days could be done, especially since Saladino, 25, could play an important role on the White Sox’s infield moving forward. If he can repeat his performance at Charlotte from last season, Saladino can put himself square into the White Sox’s future plans.
The White Sox hold a contract option on Alexei Ramirez for the 2016 season, but after that he becomes a free agent. The White Sox have shortstop prospect Tim Anderson, but he could be another two or three years away from arriving.
As the best defensive infielder in the White Sox’s system, outside of Cleuluis Rondon, Saladino has a little time to put himself back into the conversation for the 2017 White Sox infield, and at shortstop no less. If starting shortstop is too much of a reach, his glove work could lead to a future big league utility role.
“For me, mostly, I like to take care of the baseball when I’m on the defensive end of it,” Saladino said. “You can help the team that way being able to make the routine plays and being able to handle yourself on the field has been a first priority for me.”
But he has shown the ability to not only hit, but hit with power as well. In 2011, he not only tied for the Carolina League lead with nine triples, he added 16 home runs and a .501 slugging percentage.
That kind of slugging percentage then disappeared until last season when it was at .483 82 games into the season. He had nine home runs at the season’s midway point.
“Offensively, you just switch gears,” Saladino said, comparing the two parts of his game. “You have you job offensively which may be your role on the team and then getting on base or things like that, that’s what I try to strive for. At the same time, whatever the situation may be to do whatever I have to do to, help the team.”
With his arm well enough to get back to action, Saladino can get return to showing the White Sox that his time is getting near.
“I feel pretty good, actually,” he said. “Just since camp started I’ve been doing everything out on the field and taking it day by day. I’m trying to play it smart, I guess, but at the same time pushing it just to see where I stand, and as of right now, I feel pretty god. I’m able to do everything with no pain or anything.”