The third edition of the Dayton Dragons completed spring training in 2002 with high hopes after back-to-back playoff appearances in 2000 and '01. Manager Donnie Scott was back for his second season at the helm and the lineup boasted future Major Leaguers Edwin Encarnacion, Randy Ruiz, and William Bergolla plus power-hitting outfielder Chris Williamson and other solid contributors like Noochie Varner, Jesse Gutierrez, and Wandel Campana. The bullpen featured two key arms, submarine-style star Nate Cotton, who went on to save 34 games that season to set a club record that still stands, and another future Major Leaguer, Todd Coffey.
The starting rotation coming out of spring training also looked very strong, featuring three players taken in the top five rounds of the previous year's draft, plus two experienced arms that had spent 2001 at the Advanced-A level.
Opening day starter Justin Gillman was the Reds' second round draft pick the previous year. Gillman battled injuries and migraines that summer and was limited to seven starts. He came back to the Dragons in 2003 and '04 but never advanced beyond Dayton. Fairfield, Ohio native Steve Kelly had been a star at Georgia Tech and was the Reds fourth rounder in 2001. He went 4-1 over his first seven starts in Dayton and was quickly promoted. Kelly eventually spent three years in Triple-A but never played in the Majors. The 2001 fifth round pick, Daylan Childress, was also in the Dayton rotation. Childress tossed 169 innings for the Dragons that season, a club record that still stands, and his 152 strikeouts set a team record that stood for nine years before it was broken by Josh Smith in 2011. Childress' career topped out at Triple-A. Left-hander Justin Carter had been picked up from the Rockies. He made just eight appearances with the Dragons that season and never played after 2002.
The fifth member of the rotation that year, Brad Salmon, had been around the Reds organization for three years before arriving in Dayton. He was actually drafted twice by the Reds before signing, taken in the 31st round in 1998 out of high school and then again in the 21st round in '99 out of Jefferson Davis Community College in Alabama. Salmon had pitched at Fifth Third Field before joining the Dragons. In 2000, when the Reds had affiliations with two different Midwest League franchises, Salmon pitched against the Dragons as a member of the Clinton Lumber Kings. In 2001, he pitched at the Advanced-A level in the California League with the Mudville Nine. He spent the entire 2002 season with the Dragons. On a staff filled with high draft picks, Salmon, who never appeared on any top-prospect list, was the only Dragons 2002 starting pitcher to reach the Majors. Five years later, in 2007, he became the 19th Dragons player to play in the big leagues.
Salmon showed some polish early in that 2002 season with the Dragons. He walked just one batter and struck out 15 over his first three starts. His second start on April 11 was sensational as he fired eight shutout innings, allowing just two hits and no walks for his first win. A month later against South Bend, Salmon accomplished a Midwest League rarity, a nine-inning complete game shutout. He struck out 11 and surrendered only four hits. In June, Salmon struck out 13 in a game, coming within one out of his second complete game. Salmon won his 10th game of the year on July 12th, nearly two months prior to the end of the season, and set his sights on Ryan Mottl's club record of 15 wins. Salmon did earn two more victories with the Dragons to finish with 12 before faltering late in the year and working out of the bullpen over his final appearances, having already set a club record for games started in a season by a pitcher (27) that his since been matched but never broken. His 159 innings that season is still second most in Dragons history, and his 12 wins are tied for fourth in the Dragons single-season record book. Salmon represented the Dragons in the Midwest League All-Star Game and twice was named MWL Pitcher of the Week. His final record was 12-9 with a 4.46 ERA.
The 2002 Dragons qualified for the playoffs for the third straight year. The team opened the second half by winning their first 11 games, highlighted by the most incredible three-start pitching performance in franchise history. Bobby Basham, a former backup quarterback at the University of Richmond, fired three consecutive nine-inning shutouts while striking out 34 and walking just two. In what became a sad but familiar tale during that period in Reds player development history, Basham's promising career was ruined by arm injuries and he never got past the Double-A level.
Salmon moved to the bullpen the next season and continued to advance in the Reds farm system. He spent all or parts of the next four years with Double-A Chattanooga, getting better each season. He spent most of 2006 with Triple-A Louisville and returned there in 2007. After allowing no runs in seven of his first eight appearances, he got the call to Cincinnati.
Salmon made his Major League debut with the Reds on May 1, 2000, tossing a scoreless inning in an 11-2 win over Houston. Immediately, he was given a key role in the Cincinnati bullpen and appeared in 10 games in that month alone, then nine more in June. On July 1, the Reds fired manager Jerry Narron. After an appearance on July 4, Salmon's ERA stood at a respectable 3.92 in 21 outings. The next day, veteran reliever Mike Stanton was activated from the disabled list and Salmon was bumped off the roster, back to Triple-A Louisville. Ironically, Stanton had been with the Dragons on a rehabilitation assignment before rejoining the Reds.
On September 4, the Reds recalled Salmon and several others from Louisville. The list of players promoted also included Coffey, Joey Votto, and Ryan Hanigan among others. Salmon appeared in five more games that season with the Reds and gave up runs in only one. His final numbers with Cincinnati for the year included 26 relief appearances, an 0-1 record, and a 4.16 ERA. Salmon was a 27-year-old rookie, but his performance was good enough to expect many more chances in the Major Leagues. Unfortunately, there would be none.
Salmon lost a battle for an opening day roster spot in spring training, 2008, and was traded by the Reds to Kansas City for Minor League pitcher Henry Arias, who, incidentally, was assigned to the Dragons upon his arrival. After one season in Triple-A with the Royals, Salmon was signed by the White Sox for 2009 but was released at the end of spring training. He spent the '09 season in Triple-A with the Angels, going 8-4 with a 4.56 ERA both as a starter and reliever. He spent the 2010 season playing in Mexico and did not play in 2011 or 2012. Now 32 years old, Salmon's career appears to be over. He currently resides in the Alabama Gulf Coast city of Daphne.
Salmon spent 12 years in the Minor Leagues, appearing in 414 games. His 26 games of big league time made him the 19th Dragons player to appear in the Major Leagues. Next up: Homer Bailey.
Click Here for Brad Salmon's Major League Statistics
Click Here for Brad Salmon's Minor League Statistics
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.