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Baseball America's Daily Dish
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Compiled by Kevin Goldstein, Chris Kline and Matt Meyers
Braves catcher Jared Saltalamacchia has always been known as a bat-first catcher, much in the same vein as Atlanta backstop Brian McCann.
But at this time last year, McCann quickly emerged as one of the most complete catchers in the minor leagues because of all the hard work and dedication he put into his defense. A year later, Saltamacchia is following in McCann's footsteps.
The Braves thought they got the best catcher out of the draft in both 2002 (McCann) and 2003 (Saltalamacchia) and nothing has happened to change that line of thinking.
"It's interesting because they're both on similar paths," a National League scout said. "McCann has more natural power, but they both kill righthanded pitching from the left side. I like Saltalamacchia right now, simply because he can do more things as a switch-hitter and I think he's improved a ton defensively compared to where he was last year.
"They both naturally benefit from catching so many good arms--I think that definitely comes into play. All the catchers in that system are pushed to get better because of who they have to catch, how much game-calling comes in, and how much controlling the running game is important. These guys might have been bat-first when they signed, but that organization has a knack for developing catchers just like their pitching and you're starting to see it with McCann and Saltalamacchia."
It took less than a year for McCann to reach the big leagues from high Class A Myrtle Beach, in part because of sheer necessity. And while Saltalamacchia might not be on that same timetable, he's not far off in terms of where he's at developmentally.
The first-round pick in 2003 out of Royal Palm Beach (Fla.) High is crushing lefthanders and righthanders in the Carolina League, hitting close to .300 from both sides of the plate. He's shown that he can carry his own in the pitcher's paradise that is Coastal Federal Field, hitting 13 of his 21 doubles at home, as well as three of his nine homers this season.
"Everybody will tell you it's a tough place to hit, but what makes it tougher is the fact that very few pitchers really come right after you in this league," Saltalamacchia said. "I've never seen so much off-speed stuff in my life. I'll go a whole game and maybe see two fastballs. So the park is one thing, but the pitching is something else. But hitting in Myrtle Beach and dealing with seeing so much off-speed stuff can only make you better."
And then there is the defense. Last year, McCann's bat was so loud that there was little talk of how he was progressing defensively while he quietly threw out 30 percent of basestealers for the Pelicans.
While Saltalamacchia hasn't improved much in that department, throwing out 22 percent (he threw out 21 percent last season), the physical tools to improve are there. He has above-average arm strength and outstanding agility behind the plate, though his receiving and footwork need work. Still, he's committed six errors and allowed five passed balls in 60 games this season.
"The arm strength is there and the instincts are very, very good," the scout said. "He just needs to work on keeping his feet square, keeping his body ready to make that throw. Being a big-bodied catcher, it's tough to stay under control. It's sometimes even harder to do that--to take all the things you know make you mechanically sound and make them second nature--when you're 20 years old. He'll need more time to get better defensively, but all the tools are there."
• Dodgers lefthander Greg Miller, continuing his comeback from a pair of shoulder surgeries, had his best outing yet Saturday, throwing three perfect innings in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. Miller struck out six of the nine hitters he faced and reportedly was throwing in the 91-94 mph range with his fastball. He's using a lower arm angle than he had in the past, when a piece of his shoulder blade was impinging the soft tissue in his shoulder.
• It was a solid debut for Devil Rays outfielder Delmon Young at Triple-A Durham over the weekend--three games, three hits, including a home run in yesterday's 11-1 loss to Rochester. In his first game in Triple-A, Young struck out in his first two at-bats, as Rochester righthander Boof Bonser got him on a changeup the first time up, and later on a high, outside fastball. But in the third at-bat, Young laced a single to center for his first Triple-A hit. Sunday, Young drilled an 0-1 curveball from righthander Scott Baker over the 400-foot sign in center field for his first homer. Baker shut everything down after that, however, allowing just one more hit over eight innings.
• White Sox center fielder Brian Anderson has quietly been putting up big numbers in his first Triple-A season at Charlotte. Anderson, whose name keeps popping up in the rumor mill as the trade deadline approaches, went 7-for-12 with three homers over the weekend and is now hitting .299/.366/.501 with 14 homers in 341 at-bats.
• Welcome to Triple-A, Joel Zumaya. The Tigers' 11th-round pick in 2002 made his debut at Toledo Sunday, allowing six earned runs on four hits in just 3 1/3 innings. He walked four and struck out two in an 11-3 loss to Buffalo. Zumaya led the Eastern League in walks and strikeouts this season prior to being promoted. He went 8-3, 2.77 with a 143-52 strikeout walk ratio in 107 innings at Double-A Erie.
• Talk about bad luck. Double-A righthander Casey Janssen was placed on the disabled list after getting hit in the forearm with a line drive Saturday night--in just his second Double-A start since being promoted from high Class A Dunedin. Janssen left the game after just 1 1/3 innings. Janssen was brilliant in his debut on July 10, tossing seven shutout innings and whiffing eight. Before his promotion, the fourth-round pick in 2004 out of UCLA went 6-1, 2.26 in 60 innings for Dunedin.
• After posting an 8.49 ERA in 21 appearances out of the Oakland bullpen, the Athletics sent Juan Cruz to Triple-A Sacramento to become a starter. They may be onto something. The 26-year-old allowed one run over seven innings against Colorado Springs on Saturday while striking out 13 and walking one. It was the third double-digit strikeout game in five PCL starts. The righthander is now 1-0, 1.86 for the River Cats with a 45-9 strikeout-walk ratio in 29 innings.
• After hitting .218/.259/.266 in 170 Florida State League at-bats, the Yankees demoted Hector Made to low Class A Charleston. It might just be the lesser competition and better hitting environments, but he has certainly found his stroke. The 20-year-old shortstop is hitting .370/.414/.463 in the South Atlantic League and is 12-for-20 in his last five games.
• Gaby Hernandez made his first high Class A start Friday in St. Lucie. Hernandez recorded his first victory in the Florida State League with the 11-4 win against the Clearwater Threshers. Hernandez allowed four runs on six hits over six innings. "I got knocked around a little bit, but I battled and got through it," Hernandez said. "I settled down the last two or three innings and threw nicely. I learned from my first start and I'll make some adjustments so I can improve my next start." Hernandez was recently promoted from low Class A Hagerstown, where he went 6-1, 2.43 with 99 strikeouts in 92 innings.
• The Angels promoted second baseman Alberto Callaspo to Triple-A, opening up a slot on their Double-A Arkansas roster for minor league batting leader Howie Kendrick. True to form, Kendrick was 2-for-4 in his Texas League debut on Sunday as the Travelers topped Corpus Christi 6-1. Kendrick’s double-play partner at high Class A Rancho Cucamonga, Brandon Wood, remains with the Quakes and hit his minor league-leading 31st home run in yesterday’s 10-8 loss to Lancaster.
• Felix Hernandez is not the only teenager producing at the upper levels of the Mariners system. Shortstop Adam Jones, 19, has been impressive in his first month of Double-A baseball at San Antonio. A 2003 supplemental first-round pick, Jones was 2-for-3 with a pair of RBIs in Sunday’s 6-2 win over Springfield as part of a 7-for-11 weekend. In 85 at-bats for the Missions, Jones is batting .341/.389/.482 and is a perfect 7-for-7 in stolen base attempts.
• Astros 6-foot-8 righthander Jason Hirsch’s up-and-down season continues at Double-A Corpus Christi. In his last five starts, the 2003 second-round pick has allowed just three runs in 36 innings while striking out 42. Hirsch, who went 4-0, 1.71 in April and 0-5, 5.91 in May, has season totals of 8-7, 3.03 in 116 innings, allowing just 88 hits to go along with a league-leading 110 strikeouts.
• Angels righthander Jered Weaver is seemingly getting better with each start at high Class A Rancho Cucamonga. The 2004 first-round pick struck out a career-high 11 over six innings in Saturday’s 6-2 win over Lancaster, and has now won his last three starts. In six games for the Quakes, Weaver is 3-1, 4.05 with 39 strikeouts and just five walks in 26 innings.
• Tampa Bay righthander Andrew Sonnastine continued his breakout campaign by earning the victory in his California League debut with seven strong innings, allowing two runs on five hits and a walk while striking out six in high Class A Visalia’s 13-8 win over Lake Elsinore. A 2004 13th-round pick out of Kent State, Sonnastine went 10-4, 2.55 for low Class A Southwest Michigan, walking just 11 in 117 innings.
• Tigers outfield Jeff Frazier has recovered from a poor first half at low Class A West Michigan. The 2004 third-round pick out of Rutgers, who hit just .246 over the season’s first three months, is batting .412 in 16 July games, raising his season averages to .277/.342/.412 in 357 at-bats. Also recovering from a slow start in the Midwest League is Twins shortstop Trevor Plouffe. Plouffe, who hit just .099 (7-for-71) in April, is batting .420 in July, including a game-winning home run in the ninth inning on Friday night as low Class A Beloit topped Kane County 3-2. The 2004 first-round pick, who saw his average sitting below the Mendoza line as late as July 2, is batting .233/.316/.346 in 309 at-bats.
• Boston first-round pick Jacoby Ellsbury is paying some immediate dividends at the top of the lineup for short-season Lowell. In just four games, the former Oregon State star has reached base 12 times and scored six runs, batting .357/.571/.500 in 14 at-bats.
• College World Series hero David Maroul has a power arm and a power bat, and the Giants are giving him a chance to make it as a hitter. The former Texas third baseman went 6-for-12 this weekend with his first pro home run, although as a 22-year-old college vet, he's old for the Rookie-level Arizona League.
• The buzz within the Braves organization around 16-year-old Venezuelan shortstop Elvis Andrus continues to build. Andrus, hitting cleanup for the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League team, went 3-for-4 with two RBIs in a 2-1 victory Sunday to improve to .309 on the season. Andrus is a strong-bodied 6-foot, 185-pound athlete who has five-tool potential. "He has a Jeff Francoeur type of personality,” farm director Dayton Moore said of Andrus. "I get goose bumps just listening to our reports about him. He’s an exciting talent.”
• Venezuelan lefthander Gustavo Espinoza is leading the Rookie-level Arizona League in ERA after throwing five scoreless innings Sunday in a 9-1 victory against the Athletics. Espinoza struck out eight to improve to 3-1, 1.38 and has allowed just 23 hits in 33 innings.
• Marlins first-rounder Aaron Thompson had his best start as a pro Sunday in the GCL, striking out eight in five shutout innings against the Nationals. The Nats rallied for a 3-2 win on a two-run triple in the eighth by hard-hitting catcher Brian Peacock, who signed as a 39th-round draft-and-follow out of Manatee (Fla.) CC.
Contributing: John Manuel, Matt Stucko.