FORT MYERS, Fla. — If there were any question about whom the Red Sox would use as their primary catcher this season, that vanished on Saturday morning.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia has the job, with David Ross backing him up, general manager Ben Cherington said. Barring an injury, Ryan Lavarnway will return to Triple A Pawtucket.
Saltalamacchia was the primary catcher last season, but lost playing time to Lavarnway once the Red Sox fell hopelessly out of contention. Ross, a free agent, was signed to a two-year contract in November. The Sox see him contributing more than an average backup.
“For right now, I think our expectations [are] Salty and Ross, they’re the two proven guys,’’ Cherington said. “We signed Ross for a reason and Salty has continued to build on each year and added some things and gotten better. He’s a power threat, capable of being one of the best catchers in the league. We’ve seen that.’’
Saltalamacchia, 27, hit .222 with a .288 on-base percentage last season. But he had 25 home runs and 59 RBIs.
“He’s still a young guy,’’ said Cherington. “We expect him to continue to develop and be even better this year than he was last year. We think Salty and Ross complement each other well offensively.
“We feel pretty good about where we are catching-wise.’’
So where does that leave the 25-year-old Lavarnway? For now, he is blocked. But Saltalamacchia will be a free agent after the season. Lavarnway has played 144 games in Triple A over the last two seasons, hitting .295 with 26 home runs and 98 RBIs. But he has hit .172 in 209 major league plate appearances over those same two seasons.
“Lavarnway has come a long way,’’ said Cherington. “We think he’s going to be a really good player for us. Sometimes the clock doesn’t start exactly when the player wants to. But he’s proven at the Triple A level that he’s capable of helping a major league team. That’s going to happen; we just don’t know exactly when.’’
Notice that Cherington said “a major league team,’’ and not necessarily the Red Sox. Could a trade be in the works?
“I’m not sure about the odds. We’ll see,’’ the GM said. “We’ve talked to teams all winter. We kind of know where other teams are, and some teams have done most of what they need to do and some teams are still working on things and may have some questions this spring training.
“We’ll continue the conversations and see if anything comes to us that makes sense. But we’re not motivated to make a deal.’’
You are invited
The Red Sox invited 19 players to camp, among them shortstop Xander Bogaerts and outfielder Jackie Bradley. They are two of the team’s top prospects.
Of the seven nonroster pitchers invited, only 24-year-old lefthander Chris Hernandez is a prospect. Righthanders Pedro Beato, Chris Carpenter, Anthony Carter, Jose De La Torre, and Terry Doyle, and lefthander
Oscar Villarreal are veteran minor league free agents.
Doyle, a New Hampshire native, played at Boston College.
The Sox invited outfielders Jeremy Hazelbaker, Juan Carlos Linares, Mitch Maier, and Ryan Sweeney. Mark Hamilton, a first baseman and outfielder, also will be in camp. Jonathan Diaz, Justin Henry, Deven Marrero, Lyle Overbay, and Drew Sutton were the infielders invited.
Marrero was a surprise, given that the 22-year-old was drafted last June and has only 64 professional games of experience. But he was a first-round pick and is expected to move quickly through the farm system.
“We looked at it and talked about it,’’ said Cherington. “We haven’t taken a college position player that high in a while, and he’s a kid that we’ve known for so long, back to high school.
“Typically, it’s not something we do very much, bringing a draftee from the previous year into camp.’’
Marrero played high-level college ball at Arizona State and was with Team USA. The Sox feel he will benefit from being around the major league players and coaches.
The Red Sox have been cautious with prospects in the past and Cherington said this decision is not the sign of a shift in that philosophy. Marrero is first Red Sox position player to attend major league camp the spring after being drafted since Scott Hatteberg, who was drafted in 1991.
Henry on the scene
Sox owner John Henry arrived at the park shortly before 10 a.m. He had no entourage save clubhouse man Pookie Jackson, who gave him a lift from the airport. Henry spoke informally with reporters and said he would take questions later this week . . . Righthanded relievers Koji Uehara and Clayton Mortensen were among the players who checked in . . . The Sox will have 59 players in camp, including outfielder Ryan Kalish, who is recovering from shoulder surgery.