JOHNNY ESTRADA ATLANTA 28 YEARS OLD .314 9 home runs 76 RBI 145 hits in 462 at bats 36 doublesJohnny Estrada established himself as a legit major league starting catcher in 2004 with a remarkable first season in Atlanta. Replacing Javy Lopez was not easy, but Estrada proved that while he is a different type of offensive player, he can be very effective. The Braves expected Estrada to hit for average, but the production was what was surprising. While he was prone to defensive lapses, Estrada was solid defensively and seemed to take control of the pitching staff with solid leadership. Estrada still has a year to go before he is eligible for arbitration, so the Braves will have him cheap ($400k range) for one more year. Then they'll have him for three more seasons before he's able to become a free agent. So if Estrada continues to duplicate his 2004 numbers, he could be around for a while as the starting catcher – unless someone else pushes him out of his spot!
EDDIE PEREZ ATLANTA 36 YEARS OLD .229 3 home runs 13 RBI 39 hits in 170 at batsAfter a two-year hiatus from Atlanta, Eddie Perez returned to the Braves and was once again an effective backup catcher. Early in the season Perez was appointed as Horacio Ramirez's assigned catcher, much like he was for Greg Maddux for many years. But then after Ramirez got injured, Perez's playing time became even more sporadic. However, he was a capable replacement when Estrada needed a day off. Perez is under contract for 2005 and it might be his last season. Eddie is good at what he does, but if the Braves had to use him more regularly in the event Estrada went down, they'd be in some trouble. He's still useful defensively, but Perez is limited offensively.
J.C. BOSCAN RICHMOND 25 YEARS OLD .246 1 home run 21 RBI 55 hits in 224 at batsThe Braves have had a number of no-hit good-glove catchers over the years and Boscan fits right in. He's very solid defensively. The pitchers really enjoy working with him. Plus, he seems especially effective with the Latin pitchers. But Boscan just can't hit. He has a chance to become this decade's Eddie Perez, but he will have to show more consistency on offense to be a candidate. The Braves haven't brought in a veteran catcher yet to replace Joe DePastino and Lee Evans, so Boscan might get his chance at some decent playing time in 2005. If he were to show some offensive potential, he could be called up if the Braves needed an emergency catcher from the minors this season.
BRAYAN PENA RICHMOND 23 YEARS OLD .314 2 home runs 30 RBI 87 hits in 277 at bats .349 on base percentage< He's the other end of the spectrum. Pena is a no-glove all-hit catcher. He has just failed to make significant strides with his defense, yet he continues to show he can swing the bat. But he doesn't have much power. Pena is a slap hitter, but he doesn't hit many doubles. He's more of a singles hitter. If you could combine Pena's offensive skills and Boscan's defensive skills, you'd have a perfect backup catcher candidate for many years to come. However, their weaknesses could keep them from reaching their full potential.
BRIAN MCCANN MISSISSIPPI 21 YEARS OLD .277 15 home runs 65 RBI 106 hits in 382 at bats 35 doublesHere's the Braves future starting catcher. Brian McCann is Jason Varitek made over again. He's got the same size, toughness, leadership, and the ability that made Varitek the most valuable Red Sox player last season. McCann's offense was tested in tough Myrtle Beach, but he came through with some impressive numbers. The 35 doubles show you that the power is still developing. The defense continues to get major league caliber. He does an excellent job of leading the pitching staff. Most pitchers love throwing to him. They see that he is in charge on the field and appreciate it. McCann has got a chance to unseat Johnny Estrada in two years. He's very, very good. The lefty hitting McCann has a chance to be a team leader that will produce 20 home runs and 80 RBI per season.
MIGUEL BERNARD MYRTLE BEACH 24 YEARS OLD .260 10 home runs 48 RBI 91 hits in 349 at bats 24 doublesThis may be the player that you will see Boscan's defensive ability and Pena's offensive ability. Braves coaches had expected Bernard to break out offensively, and he finally did just that last season in Rome. His combined numbers in 2004 showed that he can produce power and be a force in the lineup. "Bernie" has the best arm in the organization. While the language gap can be a problem for him, he does do well with all the pitchers. He has come along a little slowly, but he's very similar to Perez in that he might spend seven seasons in the minors before making it to Atlanta. He still needs no more than two years before he's ready, but there's a chance he can impress enough to get to big league camp in 2006 and start to open some eyes.
JARROD SALTALAMACCHIA MYRTLE BEACH 19 YEARS OLD .272 10 home runs 51 RBI 88 hits in 323 at bats 19 doublesPlease do not believe that our declaration of Brian McCann as Atlanta's next starting catcher is by any means a knock on "Salty Dog." The fact that McCann is ahead of Salty by one year does give him the edge. Plus, McCann has developed leadership abilities that are off the charts. But Salty Dog had a remarkable season in 2004. He doesn't turn 20 years old until May 2nd. So this kid is still a baby. Rome Manager Rocket Wheeler was asked after the season who had made the biggest progress in their first year with him, Salty or McCann in 2003. Wheeler said it was Saltalamacchia. The kid has a tremendous frame behind the plate and his arm is getting very dangerous. The only question is whether he will grow out of the position by eclipsing the 6'5" mark. If he has to move, either due to that or the presence of McCann, first base and right field are options. He's athletic enough to make the move and succeed. Offensively, he's a switch-hitting catcher with power. Need we say anything more? The power is developing nicely and many in the organization believe he's going to be even more of a power threat than McCann. Do you remember when the Padres had Benito Santiago and Sandy Alomar, Jr. in the late 1980's? Well the Braves are going to have this same problem in two years with Salty Dog and McCann. What a great problem to have!
CLINT SAMMONS ROME 22 YEARS OLD .288 0 home runs 17 RBI 38 hits in 132 at batsThe former Georgia Bulldog was drafted last June for his leadership abilities behind the plate. He is an excellent receiver that will work wonders for the young pitching staff he will lead in Rome in 2005. Sammons worked with Chris Vines, Luis Atilano, Matt Harrison, Paul Bacot, and Kelvin Villa last season in Danville and will get them again. This is the new wave of Braves pitching prospects, so they needed a good catcher to help them mature and develop. The experienced Sammons will be tremendous in that role. He needs to prove he can hit with the wooden bat, as he struggled a bit in Danville. But the Braves believe he has the ability to develop in to a solid backup catcher in the major leagues.
COLE ARMSTRONG ROME 21 YEARS OLD .316 6 home runs 46 RBI 55 hits in 174 at batsArmstrong really showed the Braves he has some potential with a breakout year offensively in Danville as he split time with Sammons behind the plate. Armstrong is a big guy with a nice frame and target for his pitchers. The Braves will allow him to get some AB's as the Designated Hitter in Rome and to again split time with Sammons. Again, another backup candidate, but not a bad one at all. It will be interesting to see how he develops the next two seasons.
C.J. BRESSOUD DANVILLE 19 YEARS OLD .191 0 home runs 1 RBI 9 hits in 47 at batsThe Braves knew they were going to bring Bressoud along slowly when he was drafted in 2003. He struggled a bit with injuries in 2004 in the Gulf Coast League and never got going. The Braves hope he will show a bit more consistency on offense when he ascends to Danville this season. Defensively, the Braves have worked with C.J. on smoothing out his throw to second base. He's a long-term project, but the Braves like his ability.
At the major league level Johnny Estrada established himself as an All-Star caliber player in 2004. He's around for a few more seasons and should be a bright spot on the Atlanta roster. However, in two years, as he gets more expensive through arbitration, the Braves will have a significant prospect knocking on the door in Brian McCann, who many in the organization have already penciled in to the 2007 lineup. With McCann and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, the team has two legit starting prospects at this position for the future. But in Bernard and Sammons, they are also developing two players that could easily one day become adequate major league backups. If Pena and Boscan can round out their game, they will join the other two as potential reserves in a year or two. When the Braves knew that Javy Lopez's career in Atlanta was coming to an end, they prepared by acquiring Estrada and drafted these other kids. For years, with Lopez entrenched as the starter, the Braves didn't have to worry about developing many catchers. But now it has become one of the deepest positions on the minor league depth chart. They have a young catcher who is still inexpensive and very effective, along with numerous major league prospects that have a legit chance in the next few years.
Bill Shanks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org