The last in a series of collectible Reading Phillies posters, available Tuesday in the Reading Eagle and written by yours truly. (With a little extra goodness for the blog version).
Johnny Estrada is remembered as the one that slipped away, but when the backup catcher was first traded to Atlanta for established starter Kevin Millwood, many believed the Phils finally robbed their hated foe blind.
Instead, the deal worked out better for Atlanta, as most deals often do: Estrada has become the Braves' starting catcher, while Millwood never panned out the way the Phils had hoped.
Reading, 2000: Estrada was part of the Gary Varsho 2000 team that finished with the best record in Double-A (85-57). It was something of a breakout season for the 23-year-old, a lightly regarded late round pick out of the College of the Sequoias in California. He hit .295 and set a career high in homers with 12 while splitting time behind the plate with converted catcher Andy Dominique.
Estrada's offense had always been something the organization was willing to take or leave, but his ability to handle the pitching staff — in addition to his breakout season with the lumber — established his reputation as the best all-around catcher in the league.
Today: There are plenty of misconceptions surrounding both Estrada and Millwood.
Millwood is better than fans give him credit for. He's among the unluckiest pitchers in baseball, plagued by nagging injuries, bad run support and ill-omened hits. Despite his record of 4-9 this season, he has pitched very well for the Indians (3.39 ERA).
As for Estrada, the opposite is true to some degree. As soon as the Braves acquired him, his numbers made an incredible, magical jump, which is nothing new for mythic Bravos.
Before the trade: 2338 PA, .274 BA, .332 OBP, .332 SLG
After the trade: 958 PA, .319 BA, .383 OBP, .474 SLG
Source: Baseball Prospectus Annual 2005
Since his breakout season in 2004 - paced by a brilliant first half - he's come down to earth big time offensively. He's having an average season for a catcher, batting .261 with only three homers. His job appears secure for the time being, with heavy-hitting 21-year-old Brian McCann seeing limited time with the big club.
As he did in the minors, Estrada makes up for those deficiencies with good defense and the ability to handle a pitching staff. For those reasons, he’s considered one of the game's most dependable backstops.