Padres Prospect Interview: George Kottaras

Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane is envious of one prospect in the San Diego Padres' farm system. He walked more times than he struck out in 2004 and in the process propelled himself onto the map.

During the season, there was talk that George Kottaras was a pawn to be included in trade talks for Steve Finley. For those in the know, nothing could have been further from the truth. The fact that the Padres would not even consider throwing Kottaras into the trade speaks volumes of the young Canadian.

You heard it right. According to several people polled in the Padres front office, Kottaras was off-limits in trade talk concerning Finley.

Who is this guy? He is a catcher that just completed his second year in the Padres farm system after shirking Florida State to sign with the club. The Olympian, George Kottaras.

This isn't Mike Piazza but a well-rounded player that happens to have one of the better bats in the system. He is one of two players within the system to draw more walks than strikeouts in extended playing time. In 78 games, Kottaras walked 51 times while whiffing just 41 times. That is why Billy Beane would covet him.

"I have to take one at bat at a time and I have to do what I can to win," Kottaras explained. "If it means taking a walk, I have to do whatever it takes to help the team win."

The Fort Wayne Wizards had to use the entire schedule to make the playoffs and Kottaras was instrumental to their success upon his return from Greece.

In his last ten games, Kottaras reached base safely at least two times – in every game. He went 11-for-31 with 14 walks to push the Wizards into the playoffs. That is an on base percentage of .556.

"Baseball is all about trusting the guy in front of you and the guy behind you," Kottaras said. "One person is not going to win the game. I have to do whatever it takes to get on base, get runners over and stuff like that.

"Walks – open doors for other guys. We have to all step it up."

He did just that all year long. When asked to be the RBI guy, he pulled through, as evidenced by his .337 batting average with runners in scoring position.

"(Roving hitting instructor) Rob Deer and (Wizards' hitting instructor) Tom Tornicasa talk about it a lot," the catcher said. "With runners in scoring position, your approach changes. You have to look at the pitcher's perspective as well. He is in a defensive mode. As a hitter you have to come into an offensive mode and just jump on it. You can't take a lot of pitches in those situations. You have to stay in a hitter's count where you can hit in the gap or do whatever to score some runs."

Now you are beginning to see why Kottaras has become such a prized possession. He is poised, has a good head on his shoulders, is thankful for the opportunity to play and puts in the extra work.

Getting rid of a player like that would take more than a two-month rental.

Besides, the Padres are hoping he stays with them for a long, long time.

"I like the way he carries himself," Tye Waller, the Padres' Director of Player Development, said. "He is a very hard worker and he is a quick worker. He goes to work on the things he knows he needs to improve on. I think that is why he had the success he had this year."

It is clear that Kottaras is a hitter and will only get better with more at bats. It is scary to say that about a guy who hit .310 in the Midwest league with an on base percentage of .415.

"From the first time I watched him take batting practice on the first workout, the ball just made a different sound of his bat than anyone else's," Wizards' broadcaster Terry Byrom revealed.

And now you know why the talk of Kottaras being traded for Steve Finley was nothing but talk with little validity.

Denis Savage can be reached at denis@sandiegosports.net

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