2/19/2014 2:32 P.M. ET
Salty-Fernandez pairing akin to Carter-Gooden
By Marty Noble / MLB.com
JUPITER, Fla. -- If it all seems a tad familiar, well, it ought to. The names and coordinates are different, but the scenario is quite similar. The principal parts then were the Mets, Dwight Gooden and Gary Carter. Twenty-nine years later, they are the Marlins, Jose Fernandez and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Two teams on the ascent, two young right-handers, two big-name veteran catchers -- then and now.
The parallels are there to digest. Gooden had won the National League Rookie of Year Award in 1984, bringing a league to its knees with a fastball that appeared to gain altitude as it approached the plate and a nose-to-toes curve too effective to warrant so pedestrian a nickname as most other curves carried. No "Uncle Charlie" for the Doctor's deuce; it was special and renamed "Lord Charles." Gooden wore No. 16, pitched at 19 and was the runner-up in the balloting for the NL Cy Young Award.
Fernandez won the NL Rookie of the Year Award in 2013, overwhelming a league as no rookie had since ... well, since 1984. He dominated hitters with an assortment of above-average pitches, including a fastball that appeared to gain velocity as it approached the plate, a newfound change of pace, a slider and a curve. Fernandez wore No. 16, pitched at 20 and placed third in the NL Cy Young Award balloting.
"He's got 3 1/2 to 4 plus pitches," pitching coordinator Wayne Rosenthal said.
For most of his debut season, Gooden worked with an inexperienced catcher, Mike Fitzgerald. Then, in December 1984, the Mets acquired Carter. Things changed.
Fernandez's introduction to the big leagues was guided primarily by the nine-year veteran Jeff Mathis, a quality receiver who, nonetheless, hasn't caught as many as 100 games in a season. Young Rob Brantly, a sophomore last season, handled the rest of the catching duties.
And now Saltalamacchia brings his seven-season resumé, a World Series pedigree and a really big name to the Marlins, hoping to make an impact comparable with that of Carter's in 1985 and beyond.
"I shouldn't be compared with Carter," Saltalamacchia said on Wednesday morning. "He was one of the great catchers."
Yet the Marlins have entrusted the primary pieces of their future -- their "young arms," as former Mets manager Davey Johnson used to call them -- to Saltalamacchia. He is the wall for a set of young pitchers to lean on, just as Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez and Rick Aguilera learned to lean on Carter. Saltalamacchia's hair is curly, and Carter had his permed in those days. It's one more similarity, as is the presence of Giancarlo Stanton, the Marlins' fearsome power-hitting equivalent of Darryl Strawberry.
The parallels end there, though. Those Mets were loaded with position-player talent, with Gold Glover Keith Hernandez, a feared clutch hitter; Howard Johnson, a third baseman with 30-30 seasons in his future; the productive center-field tandem of Mookie Wilson and Lenny Dykstra; scrappy second baseman Wally Backman; and, before the deal to import Carter, Hubie Brooks. The Mets of that time would go on to win 108 games and a World Series in 1986.
We'll see where the next three seasons take the Marlins.
The promise of a bright future with the Marlins and, perhaps, a second piece of World Series jewelry is what persuaded Saltalamacchia to move his career back to the NL after a half season with the Braves in 2007, parts of three seasons with the Rangers and the past 3 1/2 with the Red Sox.
"I knew there was a lot of young talent here, pitching talent," Saltalamacchia said. "This organization is going to go as far as their pitching takes us, and we do have pitching."
And Saltalamacchia will have a hand -- and a glove -- in it. Carter was excited the instant he awakened each day. That was his manner, and one of the reasons he was called "Kid." Teammates had to remind him to "cheer down." But by mid-1985 Carter acknowledged that catching Gooden and the others was "special in a way I never experienced."
Saltalamacchia acknowledges that the prospect of catching Fernandez; Jacob Turner, 22; Henderson Alvarez, 24; Nathan Eovaldi, 24; and Tom Koehler, 28, is "very exciting. They are young pitchers with live arms. They're young, they're open-minded and willing to learn. That's fun for an old catcher."
Saltalamacchia is all of 28.
After catching one session with Fernandez, Saltalamacchia is impressed.
"The way he controls and manipulates his pitches ... I think it will be a lot of fun to catch him and see if the league can figure him out," he said. "And you have to be impressed [with] the way he approaches his work. He's open to learning, and he doesn't act like he has it all. You can see he understands the game is challenging no matter how much success he has had.
"You know, he may have it all."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.