Thursday, June 4, 2009

Maybe Kottaras really is going to be the guy

The Red Sox have not yet traded for a successor to Jason Varitek. Despite all the rumblings this winter and all the rumblings this spring, the Red Sox have not yet pulled the trigger on a deal for a young catcher.

Here's the thing: They might not ever trade for a young catcher. They might just believe they have their future catcher in-house already.

George Kottaras now is hitting just .188 in his rookie season; he went 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts on Thursday against the Tigers.

But after seeing his batting average tumble to .133 on May 19, Kottaras actually had three hits (including three doubles) in his next 14 at-bats to bring his batting average back up above .200. That's certainly not great, but it's also not terrible considering the fact that he (a) spends most of his time focused on catching the knuckleball, not hitting, and (b) is playing only once ever five days.

"It's not easy, but on the days when I'm not playing, I do as much as I can to keep my rhythm going," he said in early May.

It's also not terrible considering what some of his predecessors have done. Catchers often are late bloomers at the plate -- with the variety of pitchers they have to handle in the minor leagues, it's a wonder they get to work on their hitting at all. Jason Varitek and Kelly Shoppach -- the latter being the catcher who likely would have Kottaras' job now had he not been traded to Cleveland -- both endured the same early struggles as they broke into the big leagues, too.

Heck, even Jorge Posada went 1 for his first 15 in his first coffee with the Yankees in 1995 and 1996, and his batting average was .240 as late as July of his rookie season.

Here's a look at how Kottaras stacks up to Varitek and Shoppach in their first full seasons in the major leagues:

Jason Varitek (age 26 in 1998)
Final year down in Triple-A: .244/.321/.421
First 30 plate appearances: .214/.267/.250
First 50 plate appearances: .244/.333/.289

Kelly Shoppach (age 26 in 2006)
Final year down in Triple-A: .253/.352/.507
First 30 plate appearances: .222/.323/.296
First 50 plate appearances: .255/.314/.426

George Kottaras (age 26 in 2009)
Final year down in Triple-A: .243/.348/.456
First 30 plate appearances: .160/.267/.240
First 50 plate appearances: .205/.275/.318

That .160 batting average certainly stands out. But even then, Kottaras had the same on-base percentage as Varitek through 30 trips to the plate -- and he's got a better slugging percentage than Varitek through 50. (One thing to keep in mind: Varitek was playing at least every other day at that point, too. He split time pretty much evenly with Scott Hatteberg that year.)

None of this is to say that Kottaras is guaranteed to become the next Varitek. Far from it. Fifty plate appearances is an absurdly small sample size from which to draw conclusions.

But Kottaras is holding his own. And based on the way he has played defensively so far this season -- that disaster with Daisuke Matsuzaka aside -- it wouldn't be outrageous to suggest the Red Sox see Kottaras as a strong candidate to be their catcher when Varitek retires.

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