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Braves Stay the Course

June 3, 2003
By Bill Ballew

ATLANTA--Last September marked the 10th anniversary of the major league debut of the most recent everyday catcher developed in the Atlanta farm system.

While Javy Lopez continues to maintain the starting job behind the plate with the Braves, the organization has made a conscious effort to improve the situation by drafting Brian McCann in the second round in 2002 and Jarrod Saltalamacchia with its second of back-to-back first-round compensation picks this year.

The Braves nabbed Saltalamacchia, a switch-hitting Florida prep product, with the 36th overall choice, one pick after taking Luis Atilano, a righthander from Puerto Rico. The selection of Saltalamacchia continued a trend of adding depth to the catching ranks, while Atilano is the latest in a long line of high school hurlers taken by Atlanta with its initial choice.

"We looked at the players' makeup and character more than ever this year, and we feel very good about getting Luis Atilano and Jarrod Saltalamacchia," Atlanta scouting director Roy Clark said. "We want to make as certain about the character of the guys we draft and sign as we do about their ability on the field. And we know these two guys as well as the other players we drafted fit those qualifications because of the constant work our scouts do."

The first day of Clark's fourth draft as Atlanta's scouting director continued organization tradition. No team has been more dedicated to high school players over the past two decades than the Braves, and they took prepsters with their first eight selections and nine of their initial 11. Atilano is the third high school pitcher drafted first by Clark, following Adam Wainwright (2000) and Macay McBride (2001). Nine of the team's first 11 choices this year also were pitchers, with all but Western Carolina's Ryan Basner coming from the high school ranks.

Atilano has two solid pitches and an ideal frame that could make him a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter. Atilano, 18, has an easy arm that produces a cutting fastball with excellent movement. Though skinny at 6-foot-3 and 180 pounds, he should get stronger as his body matures, which should make his fastball more effective and possibly sit in the 93-94 mph range.

Atilano also throws an above-average changeup with good depth and fade. The Braves like his mound presence and competitiveness, traits that led the Major League Scouting Bureau to grade him higher than any other player this year in Puerto Rico.

Saltalamacchia headed a modest draft class of catchers. Rated by Baseball America as the seventh-best prospect in Florida, Saltalamacchia offers an excellent overall package of tools, including above-average arm strength and good athleticism behind the plate. He also has power potential from both sides of the plate and impressive leadership skills.

"We did a lot of homework on Jarrod and Luis and feel very confident that they can be the type of fits that we are looking for in the organization," Clark said. "Both of them, along with the other guys we drafted, fill needs and are the kind of players that we feel can enable us to continue to win championships at the major league level."

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