Young Salas learning with Scrappers
NILES — Behind the catcher’s mask, and by the way that he handles himself behind home plate and in the clubhouse, it would be easy to mistake Mahoning Valley Scrappers catcher Adrian Salas for a seasoned baseball veteran.
In some ways, it is true that Salas possesses a wealth of baseball knowledge, talent and experience.
But the reality is, Salas — a native of Aguadilla, Puerto Rico — is the youngest player on the Scrappers’ roster. In fact, at 17 years old, he is the youngest player in the entire MLB Draft League.
In a league dominated by experienced college players, Salas is a month removed from high school.
“My last high school game was March 21,” Salas said. “All of this happened pretty quick. School and then the next thing I know I’m here and traveling around to places like New Jersey and Pennsylvania playing every day against some of the best college talent in the United States.
“I love it here; I love that my life right now is baseball.”
The travel and the commitment to the game is nothing new to Salas, who attended school at the Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy in Florida, Puerto Rico. The daily commute from Salas’ home to school was 90-minutes.
“I started my day at 4 o’clock in the morning,” Salas said. “We would have training and baseball practice from eight until noon, then classes from noon until four, then it was the long ride back home.
“It sounds like a lot, but I loved it. Baseball is my life. When I was 3 years old my dad bought me a plastic ball and bat and I was like, ‘Let’s go.’ I just always wanted to play the game.”
Growing up, Salas closely followed Major League Baseball and paid special attention to fellow Puerto Rican catcher Ivan Rodriguez — a 14-time All-Star, a 13-time Golden Glove winner and a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
“He’s always been my idol,” Salas said. “I just always try to be like him. I’m always trying to play the game the way he played, that’s my goal.”
For now, Salas is content with fitting in with his teammates at Eastwood Field. “This is all such a new experience because I’ve never been to this part of the country, and I’ve never played with guys who are maybe five years older than me,” Salas said. “This is a blessing and a privilege because I’ve already learned so much and everyone here is great.
“I just feel like I belong.”
Scrappers assistant pitching coach Craig Antush describes Salas as “extremely mature for his age,” both as a baseball player and a person.
“Some of the pitches he handles are in the high 90s and he catches them effortlessly,” Antush said. “He throws runners out, he calls a great game and his physical skills are quite advanced. I think his baseball upbringing in Puerto Rico really prepared him for this stage of his life.
“In the clubhouse, he is extremely quiet. He handles himself so well, he’s very business-like when it comes to baseball. We’re lucky to have him all summer.”
Though he’s appeared in just 14 games, Salas has thrown out 13 would-be base-stealers, which is the top mark in the Draft League. His nearest competitor has recorded eight CS. Salas has 90 putouts, 19 assists, and a fielding percentage of .982.
Salas’ first extended stay in the United States has been made easier by the fact that his family attended several of his games in New Jersey when the Scrappers played at Trenton.
“To see my family in the stadium from the playing field was pretty special,” Salas said. “They follow my games on the internet, we always talk by phone. We’re always connected and that means a lot.”
Salas is slated to begin his college career this fall at Dyersburg State Community College (TN). In the meantime, he will be anxiously awaiting the upcoming Major League Baseball Draft, held July 17-19.
“That’s a big day for my family, it’s always been my dream,” Salas said. “I have the draft and an opportunity to go to college and get an education and play baseball. Whatever happens, I’m blessed.”