Best of the System: The Top 5 Catchers keeps you in the know as they break down the Top 5 prospects, position by position, in the organization. Baseball purists will tell you the most important position on the field is catcher, and the Padres have several that could be making a huge impact at PetCo before long. The Top Five Catchers in the Padres system are...

#1--George Kottaras

Kottaras has yet to play enough games in a season to project numbers, but everyone who watches the kid for five minutes knows he can hit.  A 'Draft and Follow' player out of Connors (OK) Junior College Kottaras figures to have a high ceiling, and has been getting big time tests early in his minor league career.  Growing up in Canada he played more fast pitch softball than baseball, and he needs time to fully make the adjustment to life behind the dish.  After catching just 26 games at Idaho Falls of the Short Season Pioneer League in 2003, he missed nearly a month of the season in 2004 while he played for the Greek National Team in the Athens Olympics, and saw limited action early in the year while he sat behind Colt Morton.

It was after Morton's promotion that Kottaras really began to show himself.  Still a work in progress behind the plate, Kottaras will get his first significant time behind the plate in 2005.  He lands in the top spot because of his bat.  A switch hitting catcher with a fantastic grasp of the strike zone, Kottaras drew 51 walks in '04, against just 41 Ks.  Coaches have wondered if perhaps Kottaras should be even more aggressive, particularly with runners on base, where his ability to spray the ball all over the field could make him a very effective run producer.

#2--Humberto Quintero

Quintero is the most complete catcher in the organization right now, but that has as much to do with his age (25) and experience (he's been playing professionally since 1997 where he started in the Venezuelan League) as it does with his abilities. He's gotten cups of coffee with the Padres in '03 and '04, and showed himself to be a fantastic defensive catcher with a very strong arm.  Last season was the first at any level where he played a significant number of games and hit above .300 (finishing at .317 in 259 at bats at Triple-A Portland), and that figures to be an aberration.  

On the flip side Quintero does put the bat on the ball.  He struck out just 34 times in 331 at bats between Portland and the big league club in '04, and though he's never shown much power, the ability to make contact, particularly when he's hitting near the bottom of the order, gives managers more options when Quintero comes up with runners on base.  He figures to make his mark as a very steady defensive presence behind the plate.

#3--Billy Killian

Killian was the Padres 2nd round choice in the 2004 draft, and is several years away from being big league ready, but his baseball IQ is off the charts, the result of growing up the son of a scout, and hanging around with big league players all his life.  The Padres took Killian, a switch hitter with power from both sides of the plate out of Chippewa Hills High School in Remus, Michigan where he was rated the #1 prospect in the state.

Though he did make a cameo appearance at Triple-A Portland late in the season, do not expect any sort of meteoric rise from Killian.  The Padres like his natural instincts, and figure to work most on plate discipline and maintaining focus with the just-18-years-old Killian.  It's possible he's the most mature 18 year old prospect in minor league baseball, "Each year you have to pick up a couple notches, you are maturing and the guys you are playing against are maturing and getting better."  With a knowledge of the game, and system, like that, it's no wonder the Padres are so high on a kid so low in the system.

#4--Colt Morton

At 22 years old, 6'6", 227lbs and with 21 homers in less than 400 at bats in 2004 it is not hard to figure out what there is to like in Morton.  "He's a huge target back there," Padres pitching prospect Sean Thompson said of Morton, "it really helps pitchers out when the guy behind the plate is that size."

It also helps pitchers out when Morton is turning on the ball.  He's hit some of the longest home runs Eugene and Fort Wayne have ever seen, but with that power comes the typically high strikeout totals.  Morton will need to make more contact to continue moving up, and that comes with plate discipline and learning how to recognize the breaking ball earlier.  Still, that big, with that much power, and the Padres are likely to give him every possible opportunity to figure it out.

#5--Nick Trzesniak

Another defensive specialist with a canon arm, Trzesniak led the Double-A Southern League in percentage of runners thrown out in 2004.  He struggled again with the bat (the last time he broke .245 was in the Rookie Level Pioneer League), but the Padres love his defense and his durability.  They have hopes that his bat will turn around, and a couple of double digit hit streaks over the past two seasons have given them reason to believe. 

Trzesniak knows what his meal ticket is.  "I have always had a good arm.  I know my catching is what is going to get me to the big leagues.  I really concentrate on that in the offseason, working on quick feet, getting rid of the ball quicker and I work on that all the time."  With just a little more bat he could supplant Quintero as the defensive minded catcher the Padres look to. 

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