Jarrod Saltalamacchia gets new start

PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- For the past few years, Boston Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein has been cultivating a plan to acquire catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

When the catching prospect's value was high, Epstein was unable to trade for him without surrendering a couple of top prospects from Boston's organization. Saltalamacchia, a first-round pick (36th overall) in 2003 by the Atlanta Braves who was later traded to the Texas Rangers, dealt with physical and mental issues earlier this season.

His relationship with the Rangers soured as he spent this entire season at Triple-A Oklahoma City.

Epstein knew this could be his chance to finally acquire Saltalamacchia's services, and that's exactly what the GM did when he traded a pair of prospects (first baseman Chris McGuiness and pitcher Roman Mendez) to Texas on Saturday.

Epstein believes a change of scenery could turn things around for the 25-year-old Saltalamacchia.

The catcher arrived at McCoy Stadium on Monday afternoon and made his debut for the Triple-A PawSox, going 0-for-4 in the No. 3 spot with two strikeouts, a walk and a run scored as Pawtucket pounded the Durham Bulls 12-0.

"I'm excited for a fresh start," Saltalamacchia said. "There's a lot to look forward to and I'm just excited to be here. I'm going to learn as much as I can, take this all in and use every opportunity I get.

"I'm excited to be in an organization where they want me. They gave up a lot to get me and I'm ready to do whatever they want me to do."

Saltalamacchia deems himself 100 percent healthy after undergoing surgery on Sept. 21, 2009, to correct thoracic outlet syndrome. He had an impinged rib removed from near his right shoulder because the impinged rib was causing numbness in his right arm and hand.

"Maybe they can make a woman with it," he said with a smile.

That physical impairment seemingly led to a mental one, causing throwing issues. He had problems tossing the ball back to the pitcher and could not make accurate throws to bases.

It was so bad he sought the help of numerous sources, including renowned sports psychologist Harvey Dorfman. Saltalamacchia believes the help turned his career around.

Members of the Red Sox staff scouted him right up until the trade deadline to make sure the throwing "yips" were a thing of the past.

Saltalamacchia used to be the type of catcher who would fire the ball back to the pitcher, but now it's more of a relaxed toss back to the mound.

"Right now I feel great," Saltalamacchia said. "Obviously I dealt with a lot of stuff at the beginning of the season. I feel confident I beat it and I'm ready to go. The past four months I've been playing well with no issues and I hope to continue to do that. I have never had health issues, so it's been a freak two years for me.

"All in all, I think it was a good thing that happened to me. I had to go through a lot of stuff to get here."

Now that he's finally with the Red Sox, the switch-hitting catcher feels he'll be able to handle playing in a big market like Boston.

"It's huge," he said. "It's definitely one of the teams when you go into play, it doesn't matter if you're at home or on the road, everyone is a Boston fan. We've got plenty of fan support and the legacy here speaks for itself."

His presence here has the potential to change the career of a few other catchers in the Red Sox organization, including veteran Jason Varitek and prospects Mark Wagner and Dusty Brown.

Saltalamacchia's only concern is that he reaches his potential. He says he wants to be a member of the Red Sox for a long time.

"I hope so," he said. "I'm looking at this as a fresh start. I'll learn as much as I can from these guys. They obviously have a legacy here and I hope to be a part of it for a long time. It's all what I do with the opportunity. Nothing is set in stone, and it's something I have to prove, work toward and get it myself. They wanted me, and it makes me glad that someone wants me."

Saltalamacchia's arrival could mean this is Varitek's last season in a Red Sox uniform. For Wagner and Brown, it could mean just another roadblock to the big leagues.

"All I can do is go out and play and let [the Red Sox] make the decisions," Brown said. "Obviously it's not what I wanted to happen, but I've seen it before and it's nothing new. It's nothing unexpected. It's one of those things that I don't have control over and they're going to make the moves they want to make and hopefully I fit in somewhere in their long-term plans. And if I don't, that's the way it is and I'll deal with it. All I can do now is go out and play."

Epstein said during the offseason prior to the 2009 season that he didn't believe the future catcher of the Red Sox was in the organization. Wagner took the GM's comments as a personal challenge.

Unfortunately, Wagner has been hampered by a hand injury this season after he suffered a broken left hand April 29 and needed surgery.

He returned on July 6, but hasn't fully recovered. He recently received a cortisone shot, but the discomfort remains, so he was placed on the DL again on Monday.

Even with Saltalamacchia now in the mix, Wagner's goal to reach the big leagues with Boston hasn't changed.

"It doesn't change anything in my mindset," he said. "I still have to make sure I can take care of what I can take care of and control what I can control. If they felt like they needed to go get somebody, then that's their initiative. I feel like if I can get back healthy, I can be a useful contributor."

Wagner describes this season like he's been in purgatory. Frustration doesn't even begin to explain what he's been feeling.

"Not to sound cocky or anything like that, but I know my work ethic, and not to say the others don't, but I really and truly believe in what I can do," Wagner said. "Unfortunately, it's been tough to show it. I feel like I haven't even scratched the surface yet."

Saltalamacchia feels the same way.

"I feel mentally tough and ready for the future," he said.

Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox and Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.