Daily Dish: June 8


See also: Wednesday’s Daily Dish
See also: Today’s Baseball America Prospect Report

Braves catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia has been scuffling with the bat for the first two months at Double-A Mississippi, but the 21-year-old seems more focused on improving his overall game than just one facet of it.

Saltalamacchia broke on the scene in a big way last year when he batted .314/.394/.519 in the hitter’s graveyard that is high Class A Myrtle Beach. Despite putting up his best season since the Braves took him in the supplemental round in 2003, the strides Saltalamacchia made defensively were what helped make him rank as the No. 1 prospect in the Carolina League and ultimately Atlanta’s No. 1 prospect.

“He showed the foot quickness, the agility and the arm strength to stay at catcher for me,” says a National League scout. “And he’s still showing that now. You look at his numbers (this season) and maybe worry a little bit about what’s going on at the plate, but for me, he was better than (Indians catcher) Victor Martinez as a switch-hitting catcher in the Carolina League last year, and he was ahead of him defensively at the same stage.”

But where Martinez went on from high Class A Kinston to MVP honors in his first season in Double-A in 2002, Saltalamacchia is hitting a dismal .225/.336/.346 in 191 at-bats.

But that sounds like the least of his worries.

“Right now, really, I’m just concentrating on my catching,” Saltalamacchia said. “If I do my part behind the plate, we win games. That’s what we’re trying to do. You never want to be hitting as low as I am right now, but I’m hitting the ball hard–it’s just right at people. I can’t complain about it.

“If I was striking out every single time, I’d probably be worried a little bit. But I’m doing my part, I’m getting runners over when I need to–balls are going to fall eventually, I guess.”

The balls have been falling more often recently. Over his last six games, Saltalamacchia is batting .416 (10-for-24) with four extra-base hits (all doubles).

Still, defense remains his top priority, and the challenges have been coming fast and furious in the Southern League this season. Among catchers in the league, Saltalamacchia is one of the most tested, with 56 stolen base attempts against him. Only Tennessee’s Miguel Montero has been tested more (with 57 attempts), but to his credit, Saltalamacchia has been holding his own, throwing out 32 percent of runners this season.

That number is up from the 26 percent he threw out last year for the Pelicans, and is just one of the areas in which he’s improved.

“He’s doing everything a little bit better than where he was last year,” the scout said. “Squaring up balls to the center of the diamond, doing a better job at calling pitches, and really reading runners to shut the running game down. He’s just a more complete catcher than what I saw last year.”

And that’s exactly where Saltalamacchia wants to be–not just an offensive force, but a more well-rounded player who values the defensive aspect of his craft.

“I worked really hard on a lot of things this offseason, and I think I’ve made some improvements,” he said. “I could be a little better, but I feel like my pitch-calling has come a long way from last year especially. That’s huge for me–if you can call a game and have consistent success, that’s already something that wasn’t in my book last year. I feel good about where I’m at overall defensively, but I’m never happy. I always can do things to get better.”

–CHRIS KLINE

Practically Perfect

In the top of the first inning last night, Savannah’s Ofilio Castro doubled to right off of Columbus’ righthander Cory Wade. It was the last baserunner Savannah had all night.

Wade was practically perfect Wednesday as he threw a complete game one-hitter while fanning 11 and facing only one batter over the minimum.

“That was as good a game as you could want to see,” manager Travis Barbary told the Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-Enquirer. “It was one of the best I’ve ever seen.”

It was truly a banner day for Wade as he was also named to the South Atlantic League all-star team. The Dodgers drafted Wade in the 10th round in 2004 out of NAIA Kentucky Weslyean College, and he is 3-2, 3.57 with an impressive 63-6 strikeout-walk ratio in 58 innings.

The 23-year-old is not the only Columbus starter who has been having his way with Savannah. Through three games of their four-game series, their starting pitchers have not allowed a run in 21 innings. On Tuesday, Mario Alvarez shut the Sand Gnats out for six innings and David Pfeiffer did it for six on Monday.

–MATT MEYERS

C-Go

It looks like Diamondbacks outfielder Carlos Gonzalez is figuring out the Cal League. The 2005 Midwest League MVP got off to a slow start in high Class A, hitting .253-3-16 in April, but he steadily got better in May (going .291-5-26) and is red-hot in June.

Gonzalez went 4-for-5 with two doubles and a home run in Lancaster’s 12-8 win against Bakersfield on Wednesday. He owns an eight-game hitting streak and is 10 for his last 14, giving him a .538 average in seven June games. Gonzalez also raised his overall batting average above .300 for the first time since the third game of the season–he’s hitting .307-9-51 in 218 at-bats.

“I think he’s just playing up to his billing,” Diamondbacks farm director A.J. Hinch said. “He’s playing young at a level–he’s always been playing young. Last year he was 19 years old at South Bend, responded very well. It took him a little time to adjust to the Cal League as a 20-year-old, but he’s always performed well, he’s doing things that are coming to be expected of him. One thing that stands out is he’s hitting a lot of doubles and driving in a lot of runs. As he’s refining his strike zone and maturing physically, he’s becoming a very good player.”

–AARON FITT

QUICK HITS

• The Marlins’ Gaby Sanchez broke his left hand in a game against Hickory on Monday and has been placed on the disabled list. Sanchez sustained the injury on a head-first dive into first base in the 10th inning of low Class A Greensboro’s 8-7 win against Hickory. X-rays confirmed a break at the base of the middle finger on his left hand and he was expected to be examined by a hand surgeon in Fort Lauderdale this week. There is no timetable for his return. Sanchez was hitting .317/.447/.603 for the Grasshoppers and is currently tied for the South Atlantic League lead with 14 home runs . . . Maybe it has something to do with the planets aligning properly or maybe it’s just a coincidence, but Scott Mathieson’s home runs this season have a strange twist to them. While the Double-A Reading righthander only has two bombs to his credit, the first came on May 5 (5-5) and the second came on June 6 (6-6). In case you were wondering, if he doesn’t skip a turn in the rotation, Mathieson is scheduled to pitch on July 7. Stay tuned.

Minors | #2006 #Daily Dish

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