Chicago Cubs’ George Kottaras, John Baker Can Both Claim Backup Catcher Job

george kottaras

Getty Images

When the Chicago Cubs acquired George Kottaras from the Kansas City Royals, it was expected that he would serve as the backup catcher to Welington Castillo.

Kottaras has elite patience at the plate with a walk rate of 19 percent last year and 17.7 percent in 2012. The Theo Epstein regime has practiced patience with Cubs hitters since day one, and it should come as no surprise that Kottaras was once a Boston Red Sox prospect when Epstein was the GM. Kottaras also combines his incredibly high walk rate with well-above average power, posting an isolated slugging of over .190 in each of the past three seasons.

While Kottaras seemed like the perfect fit as the Cubs’ backup catcher, he has struggled this spring while catcher John Baker, a non-roster invitee, has excelled at the plate. So far, Baker is 6-for-17 with three doubles while Kottaras has just two hits in 13 at-bats.

Baker has seen limited action in the big leagues and received the bulk of his playing time with the Miami Marlins in 2009, playing in 112 games and putting up a respectable .759 OPS. Throughout four seasons with the Marlins, Baker performed reasonably well with a line of .271/.356/.401 in 212 games played.

Baker spent the past two seasons playing for the San Diego Padres and his performance fell off dramatically as he compiled a .559 OPS in 260 total plate appearances.

As far as recent results go, Kottaras is the obvious leader to break camp with the Cubs. However, Baker has also proven to be a reliable backup and should have a chance to win the job. While Kottaras’ greatest strength is his incredible patience at the plate, Baker will similarly take a walk in over 10 percent of his plate appearances.

The skill that separates Kottaras from Baker is his power. Oliver projects Kottaras to hit 23 home runs in 600 plate appearances and sees just seven home runs from Baker in the same amount of playing time.

It is curious that Kottaras has seen such limited action this spring, but despite his struggles and Baker’s success, Kottaras is clearly the better option for the Cubs in 2014. Baker would provide the Cubs with a nice fallback option at catcher if there is an injury, but barring any setbacks, Kottaras should win the backup catcher job no matter what transpires this spring.

Around the Web

  • Ed Snate

    Your analysis misses one major point. That is that the catcher ERA for Baker is significantly lower than that of Kottaras (and even Castillo for that matter). The backup’s job is to be a game manager when the starter gets a day off. If pitchers know they are going to get a better game called with one guy versus another then it matters. I’ve been fortunate enough to be around the camp at the new ballpark and have heard the buzz from pitching staff. They love throwing to Baker. Watch the Travis Wood highlight from yesterday when Baker caught and Wood struck out eight and you will understand what I’m talking about. Finally, Kottaras is deemed to be an on base type player and yet his MLB on base percentage is lower than Baker in almost exactly the same number of games and is a career .214 hitter versus Baker being a career .258. I would argue that it isn’t a close call and Kottaras should be the organizational depth.

  • philip mastrovito

    I disagree with your analysis. John Baker has called outstanding games for his entire career and I agree with Ed’s comment that pitchers love to throw to him. This goes back to his days with the Marlins. John is by far a better hitter than Kottaras and is a line drive gap hitter who will drive in more runs than his counterpart albeit sacrificing some power.
    He is also a leader in the clubhouse and has generously donated his time to off the field humanitarian efforts while playing with the Marlins (i.e. trips to Iraq and Haiti).
    John will be a valuable addition to the Chicago community when he wins the backup catcher position with the Cubs.