Kottaras mature beyond his years

George Kottaras is only 22-years-old, and he is already an Olympian baseball player, playing professional baseball in the Padres system with Double-A Mobile, and has traveled to many different countries including Canada. Well, that last part is because he's from Canada; Toronto to be specific. But this catcher has a lot more going for him, including a spot on the Padres' 40-man roster this year and the title of San Diego's catcher of the future.

That's got to be quite some pressure for a player just a few years removed from Connors State College in Oklahoma.

Or is it?

"I can't really look at it as pressure," said Kottaras, the 20th pick in 2002 as a draft and follow. "I just have to continue doing what I've been doing. I'm still learning and still asking a lot of questions. If I get a chance, great. If I don't, I just have to continue on. I can't really stress over it. I have a job to do and that's my plan."

George Kottaras went to his junior college for two years and had the opportunity to play for the Florida Gators, but he chose to sign with San Diego right away. The Padres didn't even have to see whom they were hiring; they had heard enough.

"They didn't see me play before they signed me," he said. "I went to a junior college in Oklahoma, and that basically was my recommendation. After my first year [at Connors State], I got drafted, but I decided to go back for my second year of school and finish my schooling and sign with the Padres before the draft. I just felt like it was the right time. Professional baseball was something that I'd wanted to play for a long time. I was given the opportunity, and it just felt right."

What's more, Kottaras actually grew up playing fast pitch softball on a traveling team in Toronto, one that traveled to the states as well. But after watching professional catchers on TV, it soon came the time to make the transition to baseball, not an easy one at that.

"[Growing up] I liked the Blue Jays, but then I started liking everybody because I would try and learn from everybody. Everybody teaches the game differently. I'd watch the catchers on television and how they block and how they call pitches and stuff like that. I just kind of made some notes of how they do it and tried to apply it to my game.

"[The transition from softball] was tough. I had to do a lot of training just because it's a totally different game. It took a while. I wanted to do well, but I wasn't doing well. I put a lot of pressure on myself because I'm very critical of myself, especially now. No one's perfect at the game in general, but I'm not even close to being at the caliber of other players. I'm still learning the game."

Last August Kottaras was promoted to Mobile from Class-A Lake Elsinore, where he batted .303 with nine home runs and 50 RBI. In 29 games over a period of a month with the Double-A BayBears, he hit .287 with two home runs and 15 RBI, solid numbers for a player at a position in which defense comes first most of the time.

"For the catching position, defense is regarded as a priority," Kottaras said. "The offensive side doesn't really get much time as much as the defense side. In spring training we're trying to get the pitchers ready, and I guess our offense becomes second. Our priority is catching. We have to control the pitching staff and make sure we can get as much out of the pitchers as possible."

Kottaras talked about the progression he has made in throwing out runners, an area of his game in which he feels needs the most improvement. Last season he nailed 22-of-75 base stealers in Lake Elsinore and 6-of-32 in Mobile.

"It has a lot to do with I'm more confident in myself and also the changes Joe Ferguson made for me this year. There's different stance modifications and what to look for, how to do it the right way. He made me more efficient at it. My goal is to be consistent. I've been consistent offensively, and I want to stay there and do better than I have in the past. Defensively, I want to continue to get better and control the running game."

One would think that after spending so much time behind the plate and seeing hundreds of pitches a day, a catcher would develop a keen eye of his own when it's his turn to bat. That may be the case with Kottaras, who has shown great discipline at the plate with 139 career walks to 160 strikeouts. While baseball isn't exactly easy on the body, relaxing comes as a vital component of playing the game.

"Baseball takes so much out of you. I like to really relax. The time away from the game is time to really take a step back and relax and let you body recuperate."

But wait. There is one more demand of the game that some people fail to acknowledge—the media, the press, the fans, the interviews; basically all of the public. Is the 22-year-old sick of doing interviews yet?

"It's just one of those things that just needs to be done I guess," laughed Kottaras. "You can't really say, ‘Oh, I don't want to do interviews,' or whatever. It's part of the job I guess, you know?"

Better get used to it, Mr. Olympian…

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