Position Player of the Year for Fort Wayne

In a landslide, catcher George Kottaras dominated Midwest League pitching and continued his improvement behind the plate. A trip to Athens to compete in the Olympics may have cost him a shot at the batting title.

George Kottaras
Catcher
6-foot, 190 pounds
Birth date - 5/16/1983

2004 Season: In 2004, George Kottaras established himself as one of the better players within the system. At Fort Wayne, Kottaras hit .310/.415/.461 (batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage), with seven home runs and 46 RBIs in 78 games.

The statistic that jumps out at you when analyzing Kottaras is that he walked 51 times, while only striking out 41 times with a slugging of .461 pace, the highest of any regular on the Wizards in 2004. George also represented Greece at the Olympic Games.

A left handed hitter, Kottaras has worked hard with Padres roving catching instructor Joe Ferguson to improve is defensive game.

Background: Kottaras was signed as a "draft and follow" from the 2002 draft. The Padres gave him a bonus of $375,000 out of Connors State (OK) CC to turn down the University of Florida.

In his first year at Idaho Falls, Kottaras hit .259/.476/348, but greatly impressed the Padres with his plate discipline and ability to hit the ball hard. Defensively he exhibited a strong arm, and threw out 36 percent of base stealers.

2005 Outlook and beyond: Drafted behind fellow catchers Colt Morton and Matt Lauderdale, George has established himself as maybe the Padres leading catching prospect going into 2005. Why is Kottaras considered such a good prospect? Going into the California League, he will turn 22 in May. He's shown that he can not only hit for average, but posts an on base percentage over 100 points above his average, hits for power, is a left handed hitter and plays arguably the most challenging defensive position on the field, catcher; and George still hasn't come close to his fulfilling his potential. Kottaras will definitely be the starting catcher at Lake Elsinore next year, but could be promoted to Mobile in mid-season depending on how he performs. The Padres have begun to challenge their better prospects more, and George could really establish himself this year.

Runner Up

Fernando Valenzuela Jr.
First Base
5-foot-10, 210 lbs
Birth date - 9/30/82

2004 Season: Well the first thing that jumps out at you is the name, but Fernando can play. At Fort Wayne this year, Fernando hit .294/.373./.414, with eleven home runs and a team leading 81 RBIs. Like Kottaras he exhibited exceptional plate discipline, striking out 63 times to 56 walks. Fernando led the team in hits, was second in slugging percentage, tied for first in doubles, second in home runs and led the team in walks.

Valenzuela is considered an adequate defensive first baseman, but is not the fleetest of defensive players and it would be difficult to convert him into an outfielder. Fernando is not an overweight player as was Paul McAnulty last year, just a very thick, solid guy.

Background: A tenth round selection in 2002 out of the University of Nevada Las Vegas, where he both pitched and played first, Valenzuela put together a decent initial season as a professional hitting .248/.347/372 at Eugene.

This past year at Fort Wayne, he played much better and began to show some of the power that the Padres hope he will develop. With the exception of Tim Stauffer, Valenzuela has performed better than any of the other top ten picks from the 2003 drafts.

2005 Outlook: Valenzuela is one of the Padres better prospects in the lower minors, hitting for some power while demonstrating the plate discipline the Padres crave. He showed himself to be one of Fort Wayne's most consistent hitters, and drew praise from his manager Randy Ready for his consistent approach at the plate.

However, compared to Kottaras, Fernando is considered much less of a prospect to make the major leagues.

Why?

1. He's pretty much limited to first base because of his body type and because he is left handed. The only possible other positions for him is left field, possibly right field, he does have a strong arm; but so far he hasn‘t shown that he can play anywhere besides first. To make it to the major leagues at any one of those three positions he is going to have to hit with much more power.

For example, Jon Knott has had two very good years in the Southern League and last year in the Pacific Coast League, but seems destined for a repeat in Portland despite hitting .290 with 26 home runs and 85 RBI's. Additionally, Knott is more versatile than Fernando because he does play both corner outfield positions and first base.

2. Valenzuela does not fit the prototype of the 6-foot-3 to 6-foot-4 first baseman that seems to be in vogue, coming in at a relatively compact 5-foot-10.

3 The Padres are loaded with prospects who can play first base, not to mention at the big league level. Within their system, Xavier Nady, Jon Knott, Tagg Bozied, Paul McAnulty and Michael Johnson all play first. In order for to make the Padres, that is quite a few people to pass.

Fernando has succeeded at every level that the Padres have placed him, and the Padres should continue to challenge him. He could have a very big season in the more hitter friendly California League in 2005. Like Kottaras, he is still very young and will only turn 23 at the end of September.


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