At 6’3” and 210 lbs., Daniel Salters is the epitome of a strapping young catcher. Astute observers of the Indians farm system will recall this name from his New York-Penn League All-Star accolade in 2015. In his first professional season after being selected in the 13th round out of Dallas Baptist University he put up consistent numbers and was awarded with a trip to Aberdeen for the league’s annual All-Star gala.
“It was a really cool experience,” Salters said about his first All-Star game. “It was fun to be a part of that, with a lot of really great players. To get to go to the Orioles game and be announced on the field, then getting to play in the All-Star game was a big honor.”
This opportunity provided him with perspective on what it will take to climb the organizational ladder and someday have an opportunity to play at the Major League level.
“At the game (in Baltimore) and then in Spring Training you see the Big League guys and all that,” he said. “It gives you an idea of where you need to be.”
Salters is not your typical player. Young players often need some perspective to order their priorities so that they can both enjoy and excel at the game of baseball. At 23 years old he has taken a bit of a longer route to get to this point, but that pathway has provided him an unusual perspective that most American born minor league players have not, and may never, develop.
Born in Elizabethton, Tennessee, he lived in Africa from age five through 13. His parents were missionaries and he went along on the trip.
“It gave me a different perspective on life. You realize how blessed you are, getting up every day to come to the baseball field,” he said. “It’s a huge opportunity and blessing to get paid to do that, after living in Africa and seeing how fortunate we are here in America.”
Upon returning to the United States his family settled in Oklahoma, where he began to explore his passion for the game of baseball and started the process of learning to be a catcher. After graduating from Eufala High School, he spent one year in junior college at Eastern Oklahoma State, and then moved on to Dallas Baptist University.
“It is a good baseball school and a Christian program,” he said, “so I was really excited about that.”
He was selected by the Washington Nationals as a draft eligible sophomore in 2014.
“I wanted to go back to school for one more year, I didn’t feel like I was ready to go pro,” he said, regarding his first experience with the first year player draft. “I was really glad I went back and finished up my junior year and was fortunate enough to be drafted by the Indians.”
As the current season approached, it seemed unlikely that Salters would return to Lynchburg, where he had made a brief appearance at the end of 2015. There were three catchers ahead of him on the organizational depth chart – Indians #10 prospect Francisco Mejia, Eric Haase and Tony Wolters. Mejia had played at Low-A Lake County and seemed likely to be promoted to High-A Lynchburg, with Haase moving up to AA Akron and Wolters likely getting most of the catching time at AAA Columbus. Of course in baseball, things rarely go as expected and Wolters was claimed on waivers by the Colorado Rockies. This coupled with his age led to Salters ending up with an assignment to the Hillcats.
He has made the jump from Rookie level Mahoning Valley to High-A Lynchburg with aplomb.
“For me, I’m a little bit older, so I was really excited about that jump. I think guys here are going to be more consistent, in pitching and hitting, really their whole game,” he said about the jump in levels. “The fastball is the same here as it’s going to be in the Big Leagues. In Mahoning Valley you’ve got a lot of guys that can fill the zone, but also many that are all over the place. You won’t have that as much here, more control, command and understanding and that is a huge difference.”
He played some outfield while in college, but is now fully set on being a catcher.
“That’s all I did last year and this year so far. For me I love catching because I’m involved in every single play. It’s what I’ve done since high school. What I really enjoy is getting to work with the pitchers, and just being in control of the game and what is going on.”
He is still working on defensive aspects of his game as a receiver. With 14 stolen bases against him to only four thrown out, he will need to improve on that to continue in the catching role. It is his maturity and bat that are ahead of his catching skills at this point in his career.
One month into the Minor League season, Salters sits at the top of the team’s hitters for those members of the team who have played in ten or more games (two players have just joined the team and have one and two games played respectively).
In 19 games so far heading into action Tuesday night, he had a .333/.397/.406 slash, including a single home run, nine RBI, and eight runs scored. He has been a regular participant in the strong offense that has fueled the early season success of the Hillcats.
As the team is in the midst of an early season stretch of 35 games without an off day (due to rainouts and a rescheduled game that cost an off day), Salters’ mettle as a catcher will be tested. As he works to improve, his all-around game this season will provide the evidence for how fast and far he might be able to progress as a professional.
“All areas of my game can improve,” said Salters. “For me, with catching it is pitch framing, you know, kind of learning to steal strikes. There is a lot of value in a catcher that can receive the ball well, so for me it’s an area of importance to develop those skills. I want to be someone that pitchers want to throw to and enjoy throwing to.”
With his unique background and self-confidence, Salters is working to carve out a place for himself in the Cleveland organization. He is doing the same in the Hillcats clubhouse, bringing his broader perspective to service as a team leader.
“It’s easy to sometimes complain about stuff,“ says Salters, “but at the end of the day we are out here getting to play baseball at one of the highest levels possible. Every day I come with the mindset that it’s a huge blessing and take every opportunity you can.”
His season with the Hillcats is a significant opportunity for Salters and so far he is taking advantage of that. With a consistent progression of skills and performance in all aspects of his game he will continue to make opportunities for himself as a professional baseball player and team leader.
Photo: Lathan Goumas/The News and Advance