April 27, 2005

Ex-Phils report: Johnny Estrada

Can former Phillie Johnny Estrada build on his breakout season from a year ago, or was he just a one-hit wonder?

Just about everyone thought the Phillies were getting the better end of the deal when catcher Johnny Estrada was traded to Atlanta for starting pitcher Kevin Millwood.

However, Millwood never settled in as a No. 1 starter and is now with Cleveland, and Estrada is coming off a breakout year behind the plate, helping lead the divison rivals to their 13th consecutive division title. With Mike Lieberthal’s offensive struggles last year, and with no immediate answer in the farm system, the deal has become especially bitter with fans.

Brad Dowdy, writer from the popular Braves blog No Pepper, stopped in to answer a few questions about the young catcher.

BPF: I may not be right on many of my preseason predictions, but picking Johnny Estrada as a one-season wonder is one that's looking like it might come true. He's hitting .233 and hasn't homered this season. Do you think Estrada can rebound from his slow start and have the kind of season he had last year?

Brad Dowdy: I think his swing is solid enough that he will get on the right track soon. I'm not sure that he will approach last season’s numbers, but last year was such a shock I don't think it is out of the question. I think somewhere around .285 with 8 homers and 30 doubles is a reasonable expectation.

BPF: Giving up young catching is a risk, especially for the Phillies who have the oldest catching tandem in baseball. Do you feel the Braves got the better deal in the Millwood trade, and what were your thoughts when it first happened?

Brad Dowdy: In retrospect, I do think the Braves got the better end of the deal, but, anyone who says that they thought the Braves did well from a personnel standpoint at the time of the trade is lying. I, like many Braves fans, thought the deal was pure craziness, born out of implied financial restraints. I'm not sure if the Braves scouting department and Jon Schuerholz get the credit for Estrada's breakout, or rather Estrada just came into his own in his age 27/28 seasons, but the deal sure looks good from our end right about now.

BPF: How do you see Estrada's career playing out in Atlanta? Does the organization view him as a long-term backstop?

Brad Dowdy: Barring any unforeseen circumstances, Estrada should have the starting job in Atlanta for the remainder of this season and probably all of 2006. I expect that top catching prospect Brian McCann will be up at some point during the 2006 season in a backup role, and then take over the full-time job in 2007. McCann's bat is way too explosive to keep him behind Estrada for very long, but we are fortunate to have two cheap and productive options behind the plate for the foreseeable future.
Brad Dowdy writes for No Pepper, covering the Atlanta Braves and their farm system. Write to him at nopepper@cox.net.


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