Interview: Johnny Estrada

BravesCenter.com Editor Bill Shanks recently interviewed Richmond catcher Johnny Estrada for a story on "The Braves Show." Bill had the opportunity to ask Johnny what it has been like so far in the Braves organization and what his goals and ambitions are as a player in the future.

Here is the transcript of the story as it appeared on the show:

SHANKS: Back in December, the Braves traded Kevin Millwood to the Philadelphia Phillies for catcher Johnny Estrada. Estrada is quickly proving why the Braves had confidence in his abilities with a terrific season in Richmond. The trade was a blessing for Johnny Estrada, who grew up a Braves fan.

ESTRADA: "I was excited. I was kinda down for a couple weeks before it happened because I had talked to the Phillies and they said that they weren't going to trade me. When the season ended last year they said I was a guy they would use to get what they needed - so I mean, we were optimistic about being able to go some place where I could get a chance to play in the big leagues. A couple weeks before the trade happened they told me that because of Mike Lieberthal and his injuries they wanted to keep me as insurance policy. I wasn't really looking forward to going back to Triple-A again but when I was traded over to the Braves I figured that this was better for me in the long run."

SHANKS: Johnny Estrada was traded for a fan favorite in Atlanta pitcher Kevin Millwood. General Manager John Schuerholz admitted the deal was made for financial reasons. Millwood was slated to make over ten million dollars in arbitration, and after Greg Maddux decided to accept the Braves arbitration offer, there was simply not enough money for Millwood. When the trade was made, most fans were asking who the catcher was acquired for Kevin Millwood.

ESTRADA: "Yeah, that was all the talk when it first happened. Personally, when Ed Wade called me and told me that they traded me for Millwood, I figured that maybe it was a deal for me and a couple of other guys, but when I saw it on ESPN flashing on the bottom of the screen that it was just me straight up for Millwood, I knew the first thing fans would say would be "Who is this guy?". I know I don't have a lot of major league service, and he already has quite a track record already. I didn't let it bother me, I'm glad for the opportunity."

SHANKS: Johnny is especially glad since he grew up a Braves fan. Wearing the uniform with the Tomahawk across his chest is a dream come true.

ESTRADA: "I grew up in the Bay Area and we were primarily Oakland A's fans. But me and my Dad grew to be Braves fans since they were on TV (TBS) all of the time. I mean this is when they were terrible - you know, the old Blue and White uniforms and lost every night. Since we got to see them on TV every night, we became big fans. I used to wear Braves jerseys and hats and stuff in High School. So, we just became fans and to be in this uniform now is a big treat for me and my family."

SHANKS: Estrada spent half of the 2001 season in Philadelphia after Mike Lieberthal was injured. He hit .228 with eight home runs and thirty seven RBI in almost 300 at bats. Then last season, with no room in Philadelphia, Johnny returned to Triple A and hit .279 with eleven home runs. After the trade to the Braves, he wasn't sure what his role would be with Javy Lopez expected back for another season.

ESTRADA: "I didn't know if they were trying to trade him in Spring Training or not. I know he was coming off not a great season so I had that going for me. We never really talked about it with them (the Braves) so I just came into Spring Training and tried to put up a good show being in a new place. A lot of people hadn't seen me play before so I just wanted to have a good ST and make that decision a little more tough than it was."

SHANKS: So Johnny returned to Triple A....this time with Richmond. Once again he had to wait his turn for a big league job.

ESTRADA: "I'm just trying to get better here. I am just trying to put up a decent season and hopefully the opportunity will present itself later this year or next season."

SHANKS: With the way he's playing at Richmond, it's obvious he's ready for it now. Estrada is leading the International League with a .343 batting average. He's second in on base percentage with a .401 mark, and third in slugging percentage. Johnny has eight home runs and fifty five RBI in 283 at bats. He believes he can be just as productive once he gets to the big leagues.

ESTRADA: "I think if given the chance to play everyday I could hit close to .300. I'm not really a power hitter I think I could hit more homers than what I'm hitting down here (in Richmond). I never really got the chance to play everyday while I was in Philadelphia. I think the most I played was 3 games in a row, and then I would sit for game or two. But I'm just looking for that opportunity to play 4 or 5 days a week consistently and get those consistent at-bats and see what I can do."

SHANKS: Johnny has been just as impressive defensively. He's committed only four errors in sixty six games behind the plate. Pitchers rave about his play-calling ability, and he's thrown out 38 percent of attempted base stealers.

ESTRADA: "I'm a catcher first and a hitter second. I take a lot of pride in my defensive ability. There's one part of my game that I've gotten better at each year and that is gaming calling and handling pitchers. I learned when I was younger not to take my bats over my defense and I know that the Braves are a pitching first organization so I'm happy to be over here learning more and helping pitchers make me look good back there."

SHANKS: Johnny is also well aware of the importance of his job. Whether he's in Richmond or Atlanta, he knows he's in charge of the Braves biggest asset: starting pitchers.

ESTRADA: "When I catch those guys and the guys I'm working with down here, I just try to get a good relationship with them. It's like I'm working for them and they are working for me. We try to make each other look good out there. I think that's good to establish a relationship with them down"

ESTRADA: "I've always taken pride in throwing runners out. I think I've had pretty good precentages every year. I'd probably say that my strongest point in receiving, selecting good pitches, and creating a good target behind the plate, and like I said my game calling has gotten better the last few years."

SHANKS: Johnny's fantastic season was recognized when he was named the starting catcher for the International League in their all star game against the Pacific Coast League. Estrada was named the Most Valuable Player after blasting a home run. He has proved all season that it's only a matter of time before he is playing in the big leagues once again.

PAT KELLY / RICHMOND MANAGER "He's the best player in the league, by far. Defensively standing behing the plate he has great feet, great hands, great setup - real quiet behind the plate. He handles the pitching staff great, and offensively he's been tremendous - steady all year between .330 and .350 and driving in runs from both sides of the plate. You can't ask for anything more."

SHANKS: Johnny Estrada has heard the talk. Javy Lopez is in the last year of his two year contract...and even though Javy is having a spectacular season....he'll turn 33 this November. The Braves may not want to give another long term contract to Lopez....especially with Estrada ready in AAA. So next season could be the year Johnny takes over in Atlanta.

ESTRADA: "I'm looking forward to that now. I don't know if they are going to resign him (Javy Lopez), as he is having the best season of his career. Anything can happen, last year the Phillies told me I was going to be their catcher of the future. But Lieberthal put together a decent season and they signed him to an extension. That kind of nixed out my opportunities there. The same thing could happen here, I don't know if it's going to happen or not, I can't control that. All I know is next year hopefully I'll have the opportunity to catch everyday in the big leagues with Atlanta or somebody else. The opportunity is going going to be there as long as I take care of my hand."

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