In 2009, John Sickels rated Angel Salome at the 6th highest prospect in the Brewers system. He gave the catcher a “B” grade, adding the following comment:
He can mash, but defense continues to draw mixed reviews, and if he can’t catch where does he play?
Let’s break this quote down.
He can mash.
It’s important to remember that this is a ranking from prior to the 2009 season. Salome was coming off a fantastic season at AA Huntsville. He hit .359/.414/.557 with 13 HRs in only 368 ABs. He looked to be on the fast track to the majors, possibly by 2010 if not by 2011.
2009 was not as kind. With AAA Nashville, Salome hit .288/.338/.420 with only 6 HRs in 274 ABs. He struck out more often, walked less, and pounded the ball into the ground (48.0% GB). Adjusting for park and luck, however, gives a much rosier view: a .325/.370/.460 line. That’s a pretty solid line for a 23 year old in AAA, particularly one playing catcher.
2010 saw Salome back in Nashville after the Brewers decided to start the season with Gregg Zaun and George Kottaras at catcher. Everything hit the fan after “mental issues” saw Salome take a one month leave of absence, which ended just recently. In extremely limited action this year (28 ABs), Salome is hitting .250/.344/.500.
If he can’t catch where does he play?
We’ll be finding this out, as Salome has told the team that he is no longer comfortable catching. To me, this screams concern over the hot play of Jonathan Lucroy and the fact that George Kottaras has performed well at the major league level. Both are under team control for at least four more years.
Salome will be moving to the outfield. Brewerfan.net notes that he has excellent athleticism for a catcher. I would also be remiss if I didn’t point out that he is listed at 5’7″ and 200 pounds, which isn’t exactly the type of body that profiles well at an outfield position. Ben Badler of Baseball America says Salome has “20 speed.” For those of you not familiar with the 20-80 scale that scouts use, that’s “bad.”
Even if he handles the transition to the outfield well enough to be an average corner outfielder – something that Ryan Braun and Corey Hart, both players with good speed, haven’t been able to do – the question of whether or not his bat can play there remains.
Adjusting for position, a league-average right fielder will have a wOBA of roughly .350. Hitters can get to that mark in a number of ways, but think something like a .260/.325/.480 line for a power-heavy player or .300/.360/.420 from a player with more on-base skills.
Salome is certainly capable of producing at this kind of level, so there’s hope that he could become a league average player at right or left field, but it all depends on his defense, and since he’s already 24, he only really has two seasons to learn the position and make it to the majors.
Because of how well Salome has hit, particularly in 2008, we can’t just write him off, but he’s put himself in a very dicey situation, given his body type and defensive skills. He’s likely not a good enough hitter to play in the majors if his glove can’t be at least close to average, and at age 24, his defensive skills and specifically his speed aren’t likely to take a step forward any time soon. At this point, it’s hard to get excited about Salome as a major leaguer, and he is now much farther from the show than he was merely two weeks ago.