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07/09/06 9:45 PM ET
Kottaras turns heads in Futures Game
Prospect collects two hits in showcase, including homer
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
PITTSBURGH - George Kottaras claims he has no timetable for reaching San Diego, but the Portland-bound, 23-year-old catcher from Canada looked like a guy riding a fast track in Sunday's XM Satellite Radio All-Star Futures Game at PNC Park.
Showing off a smooth stroke that has impressed Padres manager Bruce Bochy and the brass, Kottaras smashed a double to right in his first at-bat and lifted a two-run homer to right-center in the fourth inning for the World stars in an 8-5 loss to the U.S.
Kottaras left the game after his homer, which came against Yankees prospect Philip Hughes, considered one of baseball's finest young arms.
"I knew he was highly regarded," Kottaras said, "and I was looking for a fastball. I got one over the plate. That was a great feeling, obviously, but I'm not going to classify it. There are all sorts of satisfying moments in life, things you can reflect on, and that was one of them."
Kottaras, a calm person by nature, was more excited than usual for this special occasion, requiring his attention.
"I was taking deep breaths, telling myself to relax," he said. "I was just trying to drive the ball up the middle. On the home run, I was just looking to stay inside it, not hook it foul."
Kottaras learned before coming to the Futures Game that he was being promoted to Triple-A Portland, where he'll assume the catching duties -- one step closer to San Diego.
"It's been a great week," Kottaras said, grinning.
Growing up near Toronto, Kottaras played fast-pitch softball but didn't take up baseball until he was 15. He instantly took to catching and began to develop his skills at Connors State Junior College in Oklahoma.
Playing for Double-A Mobile, where one of his teammates is another member of the World squad, infielder Luis Cruz, Kottaras has done nothing this season to diminish his profile as the club's best position prospect.
"I'm really happy for George," said Cruz, who flied out deep to center and was hitless in two at-bats. "But now, he's going to Portland. I'll miss him. But it's great for him. Maybe I'll be joining him soon."
While his bat continues to unleash line drives to gaps, Kottaras feels his most significant improvement has come with his defense this season. He has been working with former Padres catcher Carlos Hernandez, an organization instructor, on the finer techniques of the most demanding of positions.
"[Hernandez] has worked with me on footwork, putting me in good positions," Kottaras said. "I'm becoming more comfortable and learning as I go along.
"I feel good at the plate, doing whatever I need to be comfortable. Your swing changes over time."
During Spring Training, Bochy compared Kottaras' sweet stroke to that of former Major League star John Olerud, who starred in Toronto when George was growing up in Ontario.
Kottaras was hitting .276 for Mobile with .394 on-base and .451 slugging marks.
He looks comfortable on that fast track to San Diego.