Would you look at that? We’re in the single digits, folks!
Regular season baseball is almost here.
Well, regular season Brewers baseball that is. See, they’re playing games that matter today in Japan. The Oakland Athletics and the Seattle Mariners are playing a regular season series outside of North America.
It’s not the first time it has happened, nor will it be the last, I’m sure. That fact doesn’t make it less silly though.
Anyway, you didn’t come here to read about any of that. No, you’re here to read about the man who is wearing jersey number 9 for the first time as a Milwaukee Brewer (or as a big leaguer at all):
The backup to Jonathan Lucroy, George Kottaras is a 6’0″, 200 pound catcher who hails from Scarborough, Ontario. Though Canadian by birth, he is of Greek descent and played on the 2004 Greek baseball team in the Olympics.
Kottaras is an offensive catcher who possesses a bit of power from the left-handed batters box. He is streaky in his offense, though when he’s on he’s usually very on.
In fact, Kottaras had a very significant offensive achievement in 2011 when he hit for the cycle in a game at Minute Maid Park in Houston against the Astros.
It was an event that might not have happened for him had everything gone to plan.
Kottaras, along with Wil Nieves, broke camp with the team in 2011 because Lucroy was shelved with a broken finger. The incumbent starter was ready to return eventually and the team later needed to open a roster spot. The decision came down to who would backup Lucroy.
Nieves, proven to be superior defensively to Kottaras, was chosen to remain on the team as the backup catcher and Kottaras was outrighted to Triple-A Nashville. It was a move which would prove fruitless for the Brewers and Kottaras rejoined the club when Nieves was completely useless at the plate. Nieves was traded to Atlanta shortly thereafter.
While catching games in 2011 for the Brewers, the pitchers he caught posted a 3.59 ERA. That would be 101 earned runs in 253.0 innings. Kottaras started 31 times, catching left-hander Randy Wolf in 22 of them. The Brewers were 20-11 in games where Kottaras was in the starting lineup.
Like was mentioned, though, Kottaras was on the roster for his stick. He batted .252 with 5 home runs and 17 RBI in 49 games. A far cry from starting catcher material, but a significant improvement over Nieves.
Still, Kottaras was a candidate after the season for non-tendering. The Brewers have another solid catching prospect in minor-leaguer Martin Maldonado and Kottaras was set to be arbitration-eligible, thereby greatly increasing his compensation.
Instead of being non-tendered, Kottaras agreed to a 1-year contract which he signed on 12/12, thereby avoiding arbitration and guaranteeing himself a job (at least going into spring).
Kottaras has had a good spring this year, and has all but assured himself of the backup catching job. He has hit .316 (12-for-38), scored 7 runs and driven in 7 as well, including a 5-RBI game on March 14. He’s walked four times and has even stolen a base.
As for the outlook for this year, it’s the same as last but with more time on the 25-man roster. He’ll likely catch every fifth day when Randy Wolf pitches, and occasionally a day game following a night game. The only difference might be that manager Ron Roenicke stated to the media that he intends to use Kottaras more in a late-inning pinch-hitting role.
All that is well and good, and I know that this won’t be a popular statement with the ladies, but 2012 could very well be the final season for Kottaras in Milwaukee.
He’s arbitration-eligible again after the season and with Maldonado having another year to get better in the minors, it might be time to pull that trigger.
Bottom line though, Kottaras should contribute a bit on offense, be torched badly by the majority of would be base stealers, and the subject of plenty of “personal catcher” tweets throughout the year.
After signing a new five-year contract extension, the Brewers will be looking for Lucroy to increase his games this year for sure, so Kottaras shouldn’t have too much exposure. And while I’ve got faith that Kottaras will win at least one game this year with his bat…
A lack of exposure of his weaknesses is better for everyone.