Padres to trade a top prospect?

SAN DIEGO- In the world of baseball trades are commonplace. Every team evaluates their needs, determines if they are still in the race, and makes a deal that will set them up for this year or next, depending on the situation as the trading deadline draws near. The San Diego Padres are in the first category, sitting atop the NL West by the slimmest of margins. That could force their hand.

As the deadline nears, the cooker intensifies and rumors swirl. One such delectable nugget has come to the forefront.

The Padres appear to be dangling catcher George Kottaras, the number two prospect in the system and 54th ranked prospect in all of baseball by

Kottaras, who was promoted to Triple-A Portland this week, is at the height of his value. He just homered off uber-prospect Phil Hughes – ranked as the number four overall prospect in the minor leagues by – and doubled off Homer Bailey – the number 19 prospect – in the same game.

His bat, particularly at the catching position, is advanced and many feel he could be playing in the major leagues today with his stick. He profiles as a .300 hitter in the major leagues with doubles power and the ability to go yard 10-15 times a year.

Why then would they contemplate trading Kottaras?

In a word: defense.

With a former catcher at the helm in San Diego in Bruce Bochy, the emphasis on defense and the ability to call and manage a game is of the highest priority. Some may point to Mike Piazza's lack of arm strength in argument but no one can knock the way he manages a game, notices how a hitter sets up in the box, and blocks the plate – traits that have been undervalued throughout his career.

As for Kottaras, the organization, by all indications from various sources we polled, is split over his future. They know his bat is special for the position, but there are a few who believe he does not call a game to the pitcher's strengths.

There have been rumblings from several that he won't call for an off-speed pitch during critical moments in the game for fear of it dropping into the dirt and forcing him to make a play on the ball. His eight passed balls for Mobile, incidentally, were second most amongst catchers in the Southern League.

One area he has improved immensely in is his ability to throw runners out. His mechanics have smoothed and he displays solid footwork in getting the ball out quickly, along with a more accurate arm. Kottaras thanks former roving catching instructor Joe Ferguson and current roving catching instructor Carlos Hernandez for assisting him in that area.

But the question on his defense revolves around the job he does receiving the ball – and that won't fly in San Diego. Bochy demands his catchers be assertive, take control of the situations they are presented with, and call the game to the pitcher's strength and hitter's weakness. All of these traits are still being worked on by Kottaras and some wonder if the star hitter will ever command those well enough to be a major league catcher.

"Controlling a pitching staff, recognizing swings, blocking pitches," Kottaras admitted in response to being asked what he had to improve upon defensively.

That said, Kottaras is a top prospect around the baseball world and could bring back a hefty sum that will propel the Padres towards a NL West crown, particularly if they find a trading partner with a third baseman to spare.

Also, moving Kottaras doesn't cripple the team in the future – which is the key to any deal.

Josh Bard and Rob Bowen have proven to be competent, smart receivers, and Nick Hundley is fast on Kottaras' heels as the number one catcher in the system.

A trade that included Kottaras would have to net a player that could help the Padres today and in the future – an up and comer like Kottaras is considered. He won't be traded for Joe Randa. If he goes, it will be for a young player who has either proven himself in the major leagues or possesses the same type of potential.

While rumors are often just that, it is difficult to ignore the growing sentiment that Kottaras could be a chip in a deal they pursue. Promoting him to Triple-A lends credence to the thinking – putting him on display in a hitter's league where general managers can monitor his progress.

Finding a partner who is willing to part with a young third baseman could prove to be the toughest task of all in any deal for Kottaras.

And if he is not traded, no harm, no foul. The Padres still have the same catcher in their system who can rake and they will continue to work on his defense in an effort to make it major league ready.

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