The Red Sox will begin this season in an unusual position. They are underdogs, picked as the third-best team in the American League East by most experts.

It’s easy to understand why. While the Yankees and Rays got appreciably better in the off-season, the Sox didn’t.

By and large the 2012 Red Sox resemble the 2011 Red Sox — a team that was the best in the league entering September.

A 7-20 final month kept them out of the playoffs, but management believes a housecleaning and major attitude adjustment will keep that from happening again.

With a week of Grapefruit League games in the books, the questions surrounding the Sox remain unanswered.

Who will be the team’s fifth starter? Who will round out the bullpen? Who’s at short? Who’s in left?

One question that was answered last season is who will be the catcher. Jarrod Saltalamacchia is in his second camp with the Sox, and again enters the season as the full-time catcher.

Last year he spent a full season in the majors without being sent down or to the disabled list. It was the first time he had done that.

Now, with Jason Varitek retired, he’ll be asked to build on the 103 games he caught last season.

It’s hard to believe Saltalamacchia is only 26 years old. Reports on the catcher make it seem as though he is trying to get his career back on track.

That’s what happens when you make your major-league debut on your 22nd birthday. The expectations grow quickly and if you stumble, you’re labeled a disappointment.

Compare Saltalamacchia to two other former catching prospects who have become everyday catchers in the AL East: Matt Wieters of Baltimore, considered one of the best young catchers in the game, is a year younger than Saltalamacchia. J.P. Arencibia of Toronto is just eight months younger. Arencibia, like Wieters, is considered a young catcher a team can build around.

Last year, Saltalamacchia held his own against the “young” competition.

Not bad, considering the Sox were thought to be taking a risk on Saltalamacchia as an everyday catcher, while the Orioles and Blue Jays were letting a top young gun step into his own.

The Sox brought in Kelly Shoppach to add a veteran presence behind the plate, and Shoppach is as good as anyone in the AL at throwing runners out.

But Shoppach never developed into the hitter the Sox thought he would be when he came up through the system in 2005.

He went to Cleveland in the Coco Crisp deal, spent a couple of years in Tampa Bay and is now back in Boston.

Ryan Lavarnway, who might be the catcher of the future, impressed everyone with his bat when he joined the club last year.

He most likely will need more seasoning in Pawtucket but could be up soon.

For now the job is Saltalamacchia’s.

It’s been nearly five years since he made his big league debut, but he’s got lots of time to prove he can still be the answer behind the plate.

And that’s good news because the Red Sox have other questions to deal with this spring.

Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.