It’s only a matter of time before the big media train catches up with backup catcher Sal Fasano.
Yesterday it was Alex Gonzalez’s turn. Today it was Ricardo Rodriguez. Soon it will be Sal’s turn for a spring profile in one of the Philadelphia papers. There was already a prelude last week in the Delco Times, so expect the Philly papers to make their play in a day or two.
I thought I’d do my best to get a leg up on the reporters, but finding information on the husky 6-2, 230 pound catcher isn’t easy. (And I mean husky. Check out the picture on the right from our leaf desk at the Reading Eagle: Compared to Lieberthal, standing back, he looks like Master Blaster from "Mad Max").
There’s no biographical information past 2005 on the Phillies Web site, so the rest must be gathered piecemeal. Most of his career has been spent in Midwestern Triple-A cities, including four separate stops in Omaha (Royals, AAA) and two in Wichita (Royals, AA). He has never stuck in any big-league job for very long. The most action he’s seen in a single season is 216 at bats with the Royals in 1998. Since then, he’s seen very limited action with Oakland, Colorado, Anaheim and then with Baltimore last season, where he resurfaced at the big-league level for the first time since 2002. Between then, he was in the Yankees organization for a while, and also out of baseball during the 2003 season.
Would you expect anything less from a player with a name like Sal Fasano, the perfect name for a goofy, 34-year-old journeyman catcher with poor speed and an even poorer body? A Google search eventually produces a few nuggets, some remnants of his time in Oakland, but mostly chatter from last season in the form of news articles, message boards or blogs.
The Phillies saw enough last season to believe he could work as a backup catcher and offered him a major league contract worth $425,000, the most he’s earned since 2001 in Oakland ($375,000). My reaction to the signing back in December was that it was a safe way to open the door to the backup spot, perhaps paving the way for Triple-A catcher Carlos Ruiz to see some action without a fuss. Both GM Pat Gillick and manager Charlie Manuel have said Ruiz has a wide open opportunity to break in, and if Ruiz looks ready coming out of spring training, they could try moving Fasano through waivers and send him back to AAA. If it doesn’t happen, no big loss. He is also cheaper, younger and provides better roster flexibility than Pratt, who became a free agent and signed with Atlanta.
Fasano, an Italian-American from Chicago who turned down an invitation to catch for Italy in the World Baseball Classic, had one of his better professional seasons last year. He played the majority of the 2005 season with the Orioles after beginning the season at triple-A Ottawa. He appeared in more major league games with the Orioles last year (64) than he had in any season since a career-best 74 in 1998. He also hit a career-best 11 home runs in 160 at-bats, and has always been a power hitter, averaging about one home run every 20 at bats, including 32 in his first professional season in 1994.
Do enough Google searches for Fasano, and you will eventually happen upon this classic phrase: “defensive specialist.” It’s the baseball equivalent of “pretty face” when complimenting a female of healthy proportions.
"Fasano has always been a quality receiver with a lot of energy," said Phillies assistant GM Ruben Amaro Jr. when the deal was first made "He will be a good complement to Mike Lieberthal. He's a winning player which is the kind of character we are trying to bring to our big club."
Two weeks ago, Manuel went so far as to say Fasano could play in as many as 80 games if Lieberthal were to get hurt.
Whoa. Not so fast, Charlie.
I asked Baltimore Orioles blogger SC from Camden Chat to offer his take on Fasano, after seeing him in action for a good part of 2005.
“Fasano became one of my favorite Orioles last season, but more of a sentimental favorite than a favorite because he's good,” SC said in an e-mail to Beerleaguer. “What he represented was an upgrade on Geronimo Gil after Javy Lopez went down with an injury, but it's hard not to be an upgrade on Gil. Fasano is a fastball-or-nothing hitter, and he can punish a mistake pitch. He often looked completely overmatched against a good breaking ball, and had some positively foolish looking swings and misses.
“As for the rest of his game, there isn't much there. He's a poor baserunner, and I don't mean he's simply slow. He's a pretty shoddy defensive catcher that had some trouble with passed balls. Fasano is very animated behind the plate, bouncing around, moving his glove all over before the pitch. Either he's trying to be a nuisance to the hitter or he's just a little eccentric back there.
“Bottom line is, he's not a very good player, and he's pretty old. But he seems like a good guy and he's easy to root for. I hope he does well, but I wouldn't bet on it.”
Across the Web, you will find similar reaction to Fasano, mainly qualms about his defense and receiving, which is supposedly his specialty. Pitchers threw up a 5.09 ERA last season with Fasano behind the plate, compared to a team ERA of 4.57. He tossed out only 16 percent of base-stealers. He ranked 29th in the American League in defensive win shares for a catcher, according to Hardball Times.
Here’s a similar take from the Baseball Think Factory's Transaction Oracle:
"He doesn't play defense or run or bunt or hit singles, whether they be the pulled or opposite field variety or draw walks or run the bases smartly.
"What Fasano does do is swing the bat hard and occasionally hope to crush something. He does it just enough to be sort of useful when things are falling right for him, as with the O's last season, but he won't be as good a backup for Lieberthal as Pratt has been."
Fasano and faith
Google will also produce several articles linking Fasano with his strong connection to faith and struggles with alcohol in the early part of his career.
From a testimonial on ToTheNextLevel.org, a Web site where athletes give personal accounts of their relationships with Christ, including accounts from former Phillies Rico Brogna and Paul Byrd:
"When I got sent down (to the minors), Jed Hansen (now with the Padres), Larry Sutton (Cardinals) and a guy named Steve Sisco (Braves) helped me with my faith," writes Fasano "I was asking a lot more questions.
"They came to Kansas City in the winter (of '97) to hit, along with Joe Randa, Kevin Seitzer and Keith (Lockhart), and we were in the batting cage and I said to Keith one day, 'Keith, I think I'm ready.' I just got on my knees right there in the cage and came to Christ.
"I had a tough time winding down after games. I used to drink about 30 beers a night and close to a fifth of Southern Comfort. And that was the one thing the Lord took right out of my life. I don't have a desire for it anymore.
"I think back, and I was like, 'Man, I don't know how I did it?' He took care of me, He took it out of my life. There are other things I still battle with. I'm not perfect by any means, but He took alcohol right out."
Link: Sal Fasano Baseball Cube stats