PHOENIX – When the Braves gave Dominican teen Edward Salcedo a $1.6 million signing bonus in 2010, a franchise record for a foreign amateur, they compared it to getting a No. 1 draft pick. They said he was a special player, that he might be ready to take over at shortstop or third base within a few years.
Thirty-three months later, Salcedo has a .240 career average and .694 on-base-plus-slugging percentage with 32 home runs, 156 RBIs and 124 errors in 339 minor-league games, none above the Class-A level.
“It may take him a little longer,” a Braves official said.
He moved full-time to third base and had a modest season at high-A Lynchburg, hitting .240 with a .295 OBP, though he did have 17 homers and 61 RBIs in 130 games. Salcedo was then sent to the Arizona Fall League to compete against many of baseball’s top prospects, including some who already had brief stints in the major leagues.
It did not go well. He finished with a league-worst .140 average and .454 OPS for the Phoenix Desert Dogs, with one homer — he hit in the last game of the season Thursday — and 22 strikeouts in 86 at-bats. Nevertheless, he said it was beneficial.
“I feel great,” Salcedo said one morning last week in the Phoenix clubhouse. “It’s a good experience. I’ve been working hard with the staff here. We talk about hitting. I’ve been making just a little adjustment.”
“You know he’ll have power,” said Aaron Holbert, manager of both the AFL Desert Dogs and the Braves’ Double-A Mississippi affiliate, where Salcedo will play in 2013. “He hasn’t hit for power here [in Arizona] at all, but you see the raw power in batting practice. I know he had a fairly good year this past season in Lynchburg. It’s just a matter of making sure he gets himself into good hitting position.”
It’s too early to call Salcedo a bust. He’s only 21. His age, skills, attitude and size – a rangy 6 feet 3 and 210 pounds, up 15 pounds in two years — are all positives, and he’s worked hard to become fairly fluent in English.
“Edward continues to make his adjustments and has shown improvement,” said Bruce Manno, Braves assistant general manager and director of player development. “His AFL experience was exactly that, a chance to face good competition and keep playing. We knew going in he would be one if the younger players in the program, but it was the experience for him that we wanted to take advantage of. He will be better in 2013 for it.”
Holbert said Salcedo has been receptive and eager to learn in the fall league, despite his struggles.
“There’s a couple of things that our hitting coaches here, Darnell Coles as well as Steve Livesey, have worked with him on,” Holbert said. “We had our [Braves minor league] hitting coordinator Don Long come into town, just to tinker with a few things that are causing him to swing and miss. Try to get him in a better hitting position, a better base and pre-pitch setup.
“Defensively, he’s done well. He’s had a few errors, but some not on his own accord. He’s made a great play, showed some great range to get to a ball, then kind of flips the ball over there, has some movement, short-hops the first baseman, those type of things. But I don’t think we can ask for much more that what he’s done defensively. That’s definitely a great sign.”
Before fading in the second half of the season at Lynchburg, Salcedo showed glimpses of what made him a hot commodity six years ago in the Dominican Republic. Back then he was courted by several major league teams before he agreed to sign with Cleveland for more than $2 million.
That deal fell apart when it was discovered that he wasn’t 16, the minimum age to sign foreign players. It took another two years to get all his visa issues and paperwork squared away, and the Braves paid Major League Baseball to investigate and verify Salcedo’s age before they signed him.
He struggled mightily in 2010 with the language barrier and improved competition in his first time in the United States, hitting .197 with two homers and a .534 OPS in 54 games after a midseason debut at low-A Rome. Salcedo returned to Rome in 2011 and hit .248 with 12 homers and a .711 in 132 games.
“It was my first year; it was tough,” he said. “I came from the Dominican Republic, my first time playing here, and the language … it’s different. Really different. I remember the first time I came, I couldn’t understand anything. Then I said, I have to learn. Because I’m going to be here for a long time.”
At that time, Salcedo would never have imagined he’d have a harder time on the baseball field than learning English.