Kottaras was assigned to the Double A Portland Sea Dogs upon joining the organization, and recently helped them advance to the Eastern League Championship Series by batting .333 with three RBIs and a home run in their EL Northern Division Championship Series victory against the Trenton Thunder. Diehard caught up with the sweet-swinging backstop before the final game of the series this past Saturday.
When the David Wells trade was made, there were strong rumors that you were the player to be named later. Did you know you were in the deal at the time?
No, I didn’t know for sure. I was kind of told that it could be me when it’s all said and done. But it’s exciting, being traded for David Wells. It’s a pretty cool deal.
Who was the first person you talked to when the trade was completed?
My agent. He was like, “It’s a good thing.” He told me to go out there with open arms and show them what I can do, to not hold back and have fun with it. It you don’t have fun with baseball, that’s when you start getting yourself in trouble.
What do you know about the Red Sox as an organization?
I know that it’s highly praised. Everybody says that it’s a great organization to be in and that they have a lot of great people in this place, a lot of great players. I’m happy to be part of it.
I know you’ve just started with the Red Sox, but did they indicate what plans they have for you?
No, just to come in [to Portland] and try to help them win a ring. That’s about it.
You’re entering the organization in a playoff atmosphere with the Portland Sea Dogs. How do you get to know the pitchers in that sort of situation?
It’s been a little weird. Generally, I’m just trying to meet everybody, to get to know everybody. Also, going over the pitchers, learning what they can do and what they can’t do and what they like to do in certain situations. That’s the toughest part. It’s about making adjustments and going with the flow.
What do you mean by adjustments?
My job is just to go back there and guide them, and to watch the hitters. If I see anything, to let them know what’s going on. But they’ve been doing this the whole year and they’ve faced these guys before, so they know more about their tendencies than I do. If they see something, they’ll let me know, and we’ll just go along with that.
Are you aware of the lack of catching depth in the organization?
I don’t look into that stuff. Whether there’s a lack of catching or there’s a lot of catching, I’ve just got to do what I’ve got to do to succeed.
You’ve obviously got a pretty strong catcher ahead of you on the organizational depth chart.
Yeah, Jason Varitek. He’s great. I’m excited to try to learn from him and see what he’s got to say, see how he goes about his business.
When you heard you were traded to Boston, did the idea of catching Tim Wakefield enter your mind?
No, I never processed that.
Have you ever caught a knuckleballer?
Yes, I have. Steve Sparks, actually. He was with the Padres in Spring Training two years ago. He’s got a good one. He had his own mitt, like a Pro Sparks model by Rawlings or something, and he would give it to the catcher every time he went out. I actually ordered one. I’ve got it with me, just in case. It’s just a bigger mitt. I caught [Sparks] a couple times. It was tough. I was talking to our catching rovers about catching a knuckler. You have to relax and wait until it gets to you. You can’t go and get it because it’s going to cut and break at the last moment. You have to be like an infielder. You’re ready, you’re ready, and then, all of the sudden, it’s there and you’ve got to get it. It was tough at first. I was clunking a couple of pitches. But I got used to it, and he said I did well for him.
Earlier this season, you said you were working on your throwing skills. How is that progressing, and where do you see your defense in general right now?
Things have been coming along since the beginning of the year. I feel very comfortable back there. I’m not afraid to throw the ball. I feel like I have made the adjustment where I can throw runners out better. I feel like I’m ready to knock on the door. I’m not holding back. I’m out there and getting into the nitty gritty, just blocking pitches and blocking the plate, throwing out guys, and trying to hit as well. You know, trying to produce some offense, too.
I read that you had worked with Carlos Hernandez a lot when you were with the Padres organization. What did you work on with him?
We worked on little adjustments here and there. Not everyone’s going to be able to catch the same way, so he’d watch me play and say, hey, you’re doing this, try to do this instead. It helped, and that’s why I’m where I am right now. He made those adjustments for me, with my throw, calling pitches, what to look for in a hitter. He’s been great.
You had mentioned earlier this year that you’ve dedicated yourself to a workout regimen to help your durability. How are you feeling at this point in the season?
My body is feeling great. I’m still working out. I’m at about 190 pounds. I feel strong, and that’s all that counts. Catching is tough on your body, all the wear and tear, blocking pitches, getting hit with balls off the wrist, squatting. I feel great. Hopefully this next off-season I’ll make my next stride, maybe gain some more weight and more strength.
Scouts have said you have a smooth stroke and we all know you’re a patient hitter. How would you describe your approach at the plate?
I’m patiently aggressive. I’m not going to swing at bad pitches, and if I feel I can’t produce a good swing on a pitch, I’ll take it, even if it’s a strike. I’m not afraid to get deep into the count. When I’m up there, I’m more focused on getting a job done—moving runners over, getting guys in—depending on the situation. That’s helped me because it gets me locked in. You’ve got to keep your mind going. You can’t just go up there and swing the bat. You have to have a plan when you get up there, and I do.
It’s been said that you have a tendency to become “pull happy.” Would you agree with that?
Occasionally. I used to be a little pull-happy, but it’s changed. I might go to the opposite field now. I just take what they give me..
What about your power? I know hitters don’t always go up looking for home runs, but . . .
My power is to right-center. I try to stay gap to gap. I’ll occasionally get it, but I’m not trying to hit a home run at all. I’m just up there trying to put a good swing on the ball, barrel it. After that, wherever it goes, you can’t really control it.
You struggled a little bit after being promoted to Triple A this year. Why?
When I went up there, I had a great start. But I had some talks with some of the managers and [San Diego general manager] Kevin Towers and everybody. They wanted me to focus more on my defense because they know I can hit. That kind of affected me because I didn’t know how to make that adjustment. They wanted me to focus on the pitchers and study the hitters, so it kind of took away from my offense. That’s the adjustment I’m starting to make right now, because I’m starting to come out of it. I’m figuring out how to do both at the same time.
How have you made that adjustment?
Reading hitters, and reading situations. Noticing what kind of swing they put on a certain pitch, and what kind of adjustment they make, because the hitters are making adjustments as the game goes on. It’s about studying that and taking notes. There’s a lot of statistics as well. It’s knowing what our pitcher can do to get the guy out. There’s so much involved. It’s a lot to process.
So, is the adjustment about developing study habits?
It’s that, and gaining experience.
You’re Greek-Canadian. Not exactly your typical big-league heritage. How did you get started playing baseball?
I started playing baseball when I was 15, catching. I liked it, so I stuck with it. I bounced around up in Toronto trying to find people to teach me how to catch and hit. I played on a summer league team called the Ontario Blue Jays [Connie Mack League] that would travel to the States, so I got a little bit of exposure that way. I went to college, worked hard there, caught almost everyday. Just to be back there, and be in the game, you know, that whole aspect was attractive to me.
You said you were seeking out people to teach you. How did you go about that?
Just word of mouth. I’d talk to people and they’d say “Hey, this guy’s good.” So I’d try him. I’d get their number and call them.
You went to a junior college in Oklahoma, Connors State JC. How did you end up down there?
My summer league coach had sent players there before. My biggest thing was getting playing time, just time behind the dish, so I went there. After my first year, the Padres drafted me. I went back to school for my second year, got my Associates [degree], and signed pre-draft with San Diego.
What was your draft experience like?
[The Padres] told me they were going to try to take me as high as possible, but then I was picked up in the 20th round. They said it would be best for me to go back to school, make some adjustments and get some more playing time, and see how it goes next year.
What did they expect to see from you in that second year of school?
Just to be consistent and make the adjustments. Coming back for a second year, everybody knows what kind of player you are, so you have to make adjustments. Also, I worked on fine-tuning behind the plate. This game is so complicated. There are always small things you can do here or there that can make you so much better.
You’ve mentioned that being on the Greek Olympic team was one of your best baseball experiences. Can you tell us about that?
It was great. Both my parents were born in Greece. I’m full Greek. I speak and understand it very well. To go over there and represent my heritage was unbelievable. Going through the opening ceremonies, and everyone cheering for you. Greeks don’t really know baseball that well, so it was kind of a learning experience for them. We tried to accommodate them and let them know how the game is played. I got to meet a lot of new people, and got to go over to Greece, which was great.
Was that your first time in Greece?
No, my family has a house in Greece. We don’t go over there very often. It’s there, so if we go over, we have a place to stay.
You were a backup on that team.
I was one of the younger guys. We had some older guys like [former major leaguers] Erik Pappas and Mike Tonis. I was just kicking back and watching them play and learning from them, too.
Did they learn anything from you?
A little bit. I was more of the tour guide. I was one of the only guys who could speak and understand Greek, so wherever we went, they made sure I was along so I could translate everything for them.
Lastly, about your current team, the Sea Dogs. You’ve been with them for about a week, and in Portland for just a couple of days. What are your initial impressions of Red Sox Nation?
Well, the fans are behind you. They love the game. There are already fans that are like, “Hey George!” They know who I am, which is pretty cool. I guess it’s surprising because they recognize my face already. I’m going to try to make the fans happy and help win some ballgames.
Chris Paddock is a columnist for Diehard Magazine and a regular contributor to Scout.com. You send comments or questions to Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org.