Coming off of a successful 2005 campaign in which he collected more at-bats than he had in the two previous seasons combined and then headed off to a successful Arizona Fall League appearance, there was no doubting that George Kottaras could hit. There were, however, doubts about his stamina and work behind the plate.
The first half of 2006 did little to change either of those. The 23-year-old Canadian ranked among league leaders in on-base percentage and slugging for much of the first three months of the season, earning a spot in the Futures Game and a promotion to Portland. However, he also faded in the heat of the summer - hitting just .198 in June – and continued to lag as a game-caller.
These concerns ultimately played heavily into the organization's willingness to part with him in last-minute trade negotiations for David Wells. While bringing the big lefty in was important to clubhouse morale at the big-league level and made for a great PR move, giving up an offense-first catcher for five starts by Wells will not go down as one of GM Kevin Towers' best moves.
While Kottaras was clearly the best position player for the BayBears, there was not a better surprise than a player who began his career in the Red Sox organization.
After a miserable 2005, Luis Cruz re-emerged with a combination of good power and impressive versatility in the field. The 22-year-old from Navojoa, Mexico will begin 2007 in Portland and could find his way to the big leagues before next year is out.
The Savage File:
There is no mistaking the might of Kottaras' stick and speaks to the outcry of many when he was traded for 43-year old left-hander David Wells. The question many had at the time was how the Padres could give up one of their top prospects for a rental but the move may pay off if San Diego reaches the playoffs for the second year in a row.
Even though Kottaras hit .198 in June, he batted .314 over the first two months of the year and has always displayed a rare patience at the plate for a catcher. With a .385 career on base percentage, Kottaras has proven he has the tools to reach base at an alarming rate.
While he has room for growth in his frame, Kottaras has been a doubles machine through his career and figures to have enough oomph to launch 15-20 over the fence as he matures. His prowess with the bat was on display this year in the Future's Game when he hit a homer off Phil Hughes and doubled off Homer Bailey – both of whom are top pitching prospects for their respective teams. His catching – we will pass on that conversation.
It is hard not to talk about the year Luis Cruz had. He placed third in the league in doubles and fourth in extra base hits after he was banished to Mexico the year before. The .301 on base percentage, however, is a major drawback. Vince Sinisi struggled early but began driving the ball with authority, matching his doubles total of the previous four years in 75 fewer games.
Next year, the Double-A team will play in San Antonio. Maybe they won't go extinct in the Texas League.
Why do I feel like I'm judging the bikini contest for the before picture in a Jenny Craig ad? Yeah, it was that barren in south Alabama this year, but then again I am the genius who thought this would be the best team in the organization.
The best player for the BayBears this year, and one of the best in the Southern League, was catcher George Kottaras. Since the trade of him to the Red Sox for David Wells there has been quite a few things written about him, he wasn't that good defensively, he couldn't hit at higher levels, etc…
Most of what has been written and said is crap, quite simply the Padres gave up a good prospect in a position where they had quite a bit of depth and in order to obtain a veteran pitcher for the stretch drive. In order to get a good player, you have to give up a good player.
It's really that simple.
The Padres made the deal because of the performances of Josh Bard, whom the Padres believe is a better all around catcher than Kottaras, and the continued development of Nick Hundley in Fort Wayne and Lake Elsinore, which made the option of moving Kottaras much more palatable than it would have at the beginning of the year.
Kottaras was the Padres best position prospect in the organization and easily will be ranked as one of the top catchers in the minor leagues in 2007. In Mobile he did what he has always done, get on base with a .394 OBP, hit with some pop .451 slugging percentage, which was good enough to be among the top three hitters in the Southern League when he qualified with enough at-bats.
Defensively with Kottaras, the physical part of the job the team could always see improvement, he had a good, but not great arm and improved on his mechanics throwing the ball.
The big question with George was how well he would be prepared to handle the mental and leadership demands of the position [handling a pitching staff, being a vocal leader, knowing all of the hitters in the league, calling breaking pitches, etc.], since he really had only begun playing baseball a few years ago.
There wasn't much else to be excited about in Mobile for position players in 2006. The organization signed Cincinnati Reds cast-off Steve Smitherman, who hit with power a .498 slugging percentage but struggled to make consistent contact with a .237 batting average. Smitherman, 28, did have a huge July .329/.424/.646, but never saw his average rise above .222 for any other month in Mobile.
Vince Sinisi continued to try to comeback from a brutal forearm injury rebounded with a nice season of .269/.349/.417, but he is limited to left field or first base, and is going to need to put up better offensive numbers to get an opportunity at higher levels.
Shortstop Luis Cruz and centerfielder Drew Macias continued to solidify there defensive reputations, but still have a long way to prove they the bats are coming along for the ride. Cruz did have some good months, but a .301 OBP and a BB/K ratio of 29/62 in 499 at bats is an indication he still has trouble controlling the strike zone.
Macias started off well, hitting .307 in April, but wasn't able to hit above .260 until August [.272]. He finished the year at .256/.334/.365 and like Cruz is going to have to make more consistent contact to be a viable big league option.
While it appears that Colt Morton hit much better in Mobile [.266] than he did in Lake Elsinore [.227], when you view his peripheral numbers, particularly OPS, they were about the same [LE-.772, MOB- .797]. In Lake Elsinore he walked a little more, [.360 to .329 OBP] while in Mobile he hit with more power [SLG .398 to .468].
Morton has conquered what was his biggest impediment to his advancement, controlling his strikeouts. Now his biggest challenge is to make more consistent contact with the pitches he does swing at.
Michael Johnson battled injuries and slumps the whole year, but still ended up with a .793 OPS [.235/.353/.443], which was good enough for fourth on the team.
Mobile Hitter of the Year - George Kottaras