Live from the AFL: George Kottaras

There are very few things everybody in the San Diego Padres organization agrees with right now. One of the few is that at some point in the near future George Kottaras is going to be the next 'everyday catcher' for the Padres. That's pressure, especially when you consider that Kottaras is a 22 year old finishing his third pro season and has played all of 29 games at Double-A.

This Canadian prospect doesn't seem to mind though, engaging, smiling, playing hard and improving, George Kottaras appears ready for whatever challenge is in front of him.

"I try not to think about all that speculation in terms of pressure.  I'm still young, I still have a lot to prove.  I know that, I don't take anything for granted.  I'm here getting paid to play baseball, and that's incredible.  I have a lot of work to do to get to that level, and if I get to that level I still have a lot of work to do then."

It's a very mature response from a guy who, frankly, isn't that mature.  While most of us were trying to figure out if we were ready to get a real job at 22 Kottaras knows exactly what his job is, despite seemingly everyone else telling him what it should be.

"I want to be an all around player, and part of that is not focusing on just one thing.  I've hit pretty well, and I want to continue to do that, but I'm working just as hard on my defense."

It seems almost freakish how Kottaras takes everything in.  Virtually every scouting report, eyewitness testimony, uncorroborated rumor and message board scuttlebutt says the same thing about him.

The kid's got talent, but he needs more games behind the plate.

It's one of those damned if you do/damned if you don't statements.  It's not as if Kottaras could suddenly make himself older and more experienced.  A young kid, lots of talent, hearing the same thing over and over.  He's going to snap if he hears it one more time right?  Well, there's a whole bunch of people around, somebody will break it up if he comes after me, so...

Do you need more games behind the plate?

"Of course I do.  I've only been in pro ball for three years."

That's it?  Okay.  Well doesn't it get frustrating to hear that all the time?

"No, because it's the truth.  It would be different if people were saying something that wasn't true, but that is true.  I try not to get frustrated, because this game is frustrating enough on it's own without adding to it with all the stuff people say.  The only way I can get people to stop saying I need more games behind the plate it to get more games behind the plate, you know?  I just come out here to play, all the time.  I want more games behind the plate.  I want to get better.  I work on everything, hitting, catching, throwing, calling games.  Catcher is one of the most important players on the field, you're responsible for a lot, so I work hard, that's all I can do."

It's almost disappointing.  He just doesn't get rattled.  But after the kind of 2005 he had, it's not surprising.  Kottaras continues to handle the pressure, and probably appreciates his time in the Arizona Fall League, precisely because down here, the pressure isn't as great.  For maybe the first time in his life Kottaras isn't even the #1 catcher on this club, that standing goes to Seattle Mariners first round pick Jeff Clement.  He takes his reps in practice, gets his work in the cage, and is ready to go any time the coach asks him to. 

"This has been my best year, and will probably be my favorite year in baseball until the year I make the bigs," Kottaras says as he watches batting practice, "I've been tested, I've been challenged, and I've gotten better for it.  Down here I'm playing against some of the best minor leaguers, and some Major Leaguers too.  It's the best competition, and the best coaches and instructors.  That's how you get better, by working and playing with the best."

The instinct is to ask for ID.  He just doesn't seem like a 22 year old.  Maybe we can get him to drop a name, start a feud.

What pitcher you caught had the best stuff?

It's one of those tough questions, you don't want to offend anybody, and particularly since Kottaras spend parts of the season at both Hi-A and Double-A, it really opens up a can of worms.  This is where we realize that Kottaras has demons, that he can be lulled into a bad answer.

"Gosh, I don't know.  There were so many good pitchers this season."  He pauses for a moment, "there were lots of guys, and I saw so many guys get better during the season, guys making big improvements.  I couldn't nail it down to one."

Or perhaps not.  Kottaras isn't grandstanding, he isn't non-committal.  He's being honest.  He even goes on to explain.

"There were four or five guys who I saw at the beginning of the season, and I'd realize later during the year that they had gotten so much better, and that day I'd think, 'Yeah, that guy is the best,' and then I'd see another guy the next week that had gotten better too.  They progressed equally, and so I couldn't just name one."

So much for getting him, Senator Kottaras is far too good for that. 

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