Double-A Mobile catcher George Kottaras is a busy man–especially on the road.
During a recent series at Carolina, the Padres’ 20th-round pick in 2002 was running like a madman from place to place before, during and after batting practice.
Kottaras was blazing a trail up and down the first base line jogging back and forth between the visiting dugout and the clubhouse, which sits behind the right field wall at Five County Stadium in Zebulon, N.C.
“We just had a lot of meetings today–pitchers meetings, meeting with (Mobile hitting coach) Arnie Beyeler–and that as between BP, shagging and then taking infield,” the 22-year-old catcher said. “We don’t have a lot of free time on the road once we get to the ballpark.”
It’s that business-like approach that has vaulted Kottaras to the top of the Padres depth chart at catcher, as he has steadily moved through the system since signing for $375,000 as a draft-and-follow. He finally broke in with his first full season last year, after spending part of 2004 at low Class A Fort Wayne and playing for the Greece in the Olympics that year.
Though he was a backup on the Greek Olympic team, going 3-for-12 in limited time, Kottaras says that was one of the highlights of his career.
Currently, Kottaras is hitting .289/.413/.600 in 90 at-bats for the Bay Bears.
We caught up with the Padres catcher–between sprints–last week in Zebulon to talk about his recent power surge, his cooking skills and his fascination with rock star Lenny Kravitz.
Baseball America: You hit a total of 11 homers last season and already have five this year. How has the recent power surge felt and how comfortable have you been at the plate this season?
George Kottaras: It’s been going pretty good so far. I’ve just been going up there and keeping it really simple, trying to put good swings on balls. I’ve been trying to put the ball on the barrel and good things have been happening. You can’t really get caught up with when things are going really well or when they’re not. The key is just to keep steady and maintain some kind of consistency. Streaks go both ways.
BA: How about your defense behind the plate? Is there anything you’ve been working on defensively?
GK: I’ve been trying to get my transfer and release down a little better. It’s been tough–like it’s tough to do it in the games because everything’s happening so fast and there are so many factors that can go wrong. So I just try to stay positive with it and look at it as an uphill climb. I just want to keep getting better and climbing uphill.
BA: You take it as a personal challenge when someone tries to steal a bag from you?
GK: Definitely. Everything’s personal. They’re up against you. There’s the pitcher’s speed in how quick he is to the plate–that’s just one factor to consider–but I get mad when someone steals on us. And when someone does, that just re-focuses me for the next time and it kind of fires me up more to get the next guy who tries it.
BA: Some scouts have knocked you in the past because of your size (Kottaras is listed at 6-foot, 190 pounds) at your position. How do you feel your size affects your ability to not only catch, but to also be a productive hitter with power?
GK: I think the size thing is people tend to question my longevity and durability in going through a whole season. Last year was the first time I played an entire full year of full season ball. I worked out probably more this past offseason than I had before to prove that I could do it–to prove that I belong where I am, and I think my numbers both offensively and defensively will speak for themselves when it’s all said and done.
BA: Any adjustments you’ve made in your swing?
GK: Just trying to keep my bat inside the hitting zone for a long period of time. That gives me more room for error if I’m behind a pitch or ahead of a pitch. If I keep my bat in the hitting zone for a while longer, it gives me a better chance to react to pitches.
BA: Moving outside the game now, pastitsio or moussaka?
GK: Pastitsio for sure. My mom makes a great pastitsio at home,so it’s something I’d much rather have than moussaka. It’s kind of like lasagna. You’ve had lasagna before, right?
BA: Yeah, but that’s mostly been the Stouffer’s family size frozen version. I’m a big moussaka fan though. It’s my go-to dish to order at any Greek restaurant. So what’s the difference between the two, since they sound so similar?
GK: Pastitsio has ground beef in it and you can make it with eggplant, but that’s more of a vegetarian thing. Moussaka pretty much always always has eggplant, so that’s one of the differences.
BA: Do you do any cooking on your own?
GK: Just gyros, really. That’s about it.
BA: Can we get a recipe?
GK: Sorry, family secret.
BA: OK, any interests off the field?
GK: I really like to listen to a lot of music. I like listening to Lenny Kravitz before every game. I listen to a bunch of his CDs like ‘Are You Gonna Go My Way?’ but I’m more into his greatest hits stuff. I went to his concert when we were in Phoenix and that really turned me on to his music. I had never really listened to his stuff before. I had heard ‘American Woman,’ and that kind of stuff on the radio, but seeing him live really got me sold on him.