I remember a few years ago when the Braves decided to make a concerted effort to improve the barren state of their system in regards to catchers. Lopez was holding down the major league job but beyond him they had absolutely nobody. I think they've done a pretty good job in drafting/signing and developing some pretty good catchers. Actually, they have done too good of a job. The system is overflowing with great young backstops. Let's take a look at each of them.
1. I'll start at the top with Brian McCann. He was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2002 draft out of a Georgia high school. He showed some good power potential in his first few years before making a surprise trip to Atlanta last year. He played so well that Atlanta traded incumbent starter, Johnny Estrada, to the Diamondbacks for a couple of relievers. He is penciled in as the starting catcher at least until Salty arrives.
2. Brayan Pena was born in Cuba and signed with Atlanta in 2000. He does not get as much publicity as McCann or Saltalamacchia, nor is it warranted. However, he is a solid player who could probably start for some major league teams right now. His bat is great although he lacks power. His defense is ok but he has trouble controlling the running game. But he continues to put up really good numbers in the minors. He would make a really good backup.
3. Jarrod Saltalamacchia was drafted in the 1st round of the 2003 draft out of a Florida high school. Salty, because I don't want to type his full last name, burst onto the scene last year with a tremendous year in Myrtle Beach. He is getting rave reviews in camp this year from Bobby Cox and his is listed as the #23 prospect in all of baseball by Baseball Prospectus. I don't expect him to be in the minors much longer. He will start '06 in Mississippi and end it in either Richmond or Atlanta.
4. Clint Sammons was drafted out of the University of Georgia in 2004. He is somewhat different from the first three in that his top quality is his defense and handling of pitchers. With defense as his top quality, he also has hit .288 and .286 in his first two seasons in the minors so his offense is not bad at all. He also shows a lot of plate discipline which is usually lacking in Braves' hitting prospects.
5. Max Ramirez was born in Venezuela and signed as a free agent in 2002. He played alongside Eric Campell in Danville and nearly matched Eric's numbers. It will be interesting to see him catch a full season at Rome next year but expectations are high after his great offensive season in 2005. He is a sleeper candidate according to John Sickels.
Obviously the Braves did a great job in stockpiling talent at catcher. It is interesting to note that the top trait for most of these guys is offense. Usually, offense is the one thing that a catcher lacks. I am looking forward to seeing each one of these guys progress and hopefully contribute in Atlanta at some point.