The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Daniel Salters is an imposing figure as he stands tall in the left-handed batters’ box. His swing is quiet, smooth, effortless, yet the bat head flies through the zone. And the ball jumps off his bat with an easy power that reflects his size and strength.
On the bases, Salters doesn’t run like a catcher, eating up ground with his long strides. Behind the dish, his rocket for an arm gets the ball to second in the blink of an eye.
It’s easy to see why the Washington Nationals picked the Dallas Baptist sophomore and Eau Claire Express standout in the 22nd round of this year’s MLB draft. They think the sky is the limit for Salters, who seems to have all the tools of a Big Leaguer. And there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic that he can develop his raw skills and reach his full potential. He’s already pretty far along, considering he’s only been playing baseball for six years.
Salters spent most of his childhood in Africa, where his dad was a missionary. Salters never got to play organized baseball growing up. Where he was didn’t have teams or leagues in any sport except for soccer.
But Salters always loved baseball, the game that ran through the blood of his family. His grandpa had been drafted by the Yankees once upon a time. And his dad played high school ball and passed his love of the game onto his son. Salters would hear about the game from his family, and when they went back to the United States on furloughs, he’d get a chance to watch baseball. But that was never enough.
“I wanted to play it,” Salters said.
When Salters moved to the U.S. with his family when he was 13, he was home schooled for a couple of years. But when it was time for high school, Salters insisted that he get an opportunity to go to a public school to play baseball.
When Salters showed up to play at Eufaula High School in Oklahoma his freshman year, he didn’t have a position. Even though he had the size of a first baseman or corner outfielder, his coach asked him what he thought about catching. There was a big need for left-handed hitting catchers in the Major Leagues, his coach told him. But as enticing as that sounded, Salters didn’t think he’d ever like playing behind the plate.
“It sounded terrible,” Salters said. “But I started giving it a shot, and I loved it. I’m involved in every play. I’ve been catching ever since. ”
Salters caught on to catching and hitting pretty quickly. By the time he was an upperclassman, he made the all-conference team twice. In his senior year, he was an all-state honorable mention.
Playing at a small high school, Salters didn’t get a lot of attention from scouts. But one pro scout saw him play at a summer showcase between his junior and senior seasons and put Salters’ name on a website that various teams can access. At the end of his senior season, Salters had a couple scouts watch him.
“But I didn’t hear anything from them after that,” Salters said. “Didn’t hear anything at junior college. I know some scouts probably saw me, but I was not ready to go at all after junior college.”
Salters spent his freshman year at Eastern Oklahoma State, where he hit .338 with five home runs and 23 RBIs on his way to being named to the NJCAA All-Region II Team. He then transferred to Dallas Baptist, which rapidly has become a hotbed for producing pro players in recent years. That’s where Salters really elevated his play.
“At Dallas Baptist, that was the first year I had gotten coaching,” Salters said. “When I was in high school, my coach knew things and my dad knew, and we worked on stuff, but I was kind of behind other kids. Then I went to junior college and you’re just learning from experience, playing the game, you’re not really getting coached.”
Salters became much more comfortable behind the plate, learning from a catching coach that spent time at the position in the minor leagues. He also learned how to effectively use his legs to help drive the ball, helping him put up good power numbers. He led the team with 43 RBIs and 27 extra-base hits. Six of those were home runs. And his seven triples were good for seventh in the nation.
Salters already has shown off that power for the Express fans at Carson Park, hitting a mammoth walk-off home run on June 20. He’s hitting .301 with a .379 on-base percentage and has played well defensively. But Salters, always striving to get better, still has plenty he wants to work on this summer.
“I need to work on when I get my pitch, not missing that pitch, really driving the ball,” Salters said. “That’s a big one. Catching-wise, just getting more smooth at it. You watch Big League catchers, and they’re all really smooth. So I’m trying to limit the amount of movement when I’m catching pitches, not reaching for it.”
Salters was eligible for the draft this year as a sophomore because he was already 21, so the Nationals went ahead and took a chance on the young slugger. There’s still a chance Salters could leave the Express early this summer and sign.
“They’ve been calculating some numbers to see what they can offer me, depending on some guys that may or may not sign,” Salters said. “I haven’t completely said yes or no yet, it depends on what they have to offer. Whether I decide to go or not, I’m going to get better, so it’s a win-win.”