Position: 1B Height: 6-3 Weight: 210 Born: 2/22/83 Bats: Left Throws: Left
Casey Kotchman was drafted in the first round in 2001, out of high school in Seminole, Fla. The 13th player picked overall, Casey is the son of Tom Kotchman, a long-time scout and coach in the Angels farm system. This was not a case of nepotism, however; Casey was a legitimate first-round pick, and was considered to be the best overall hitter from the high school ranks in his draft class by most experts. Kotchman has shown he can handle professional pitching, and has a special bat. He also has a propensity for getting hurt, which has limited his playing time and led to doubts about his durability.
Kotchman has one of the smoothest strokes around. His swing is quick, sharp, short. He can pull the ball for power or hit to the opposite field. His home run power is not fully developed yet, but he hits lots of doubles, a sign of more homers to come. He's hit for average at every level, and scouts project that he'll continue to hit .290 or higher at the highest levels. Some compare him to Todd Helton, though with a bit less home run power. Kotchman's plate discipline is excellent, and he seldom swings at a bad pitch. With the glove, he shows good athleticism, soft hands, the ability to help the other infielders by picking bad throws, and excellent reliability. He could be a Gold Glove type down the road. Kotchman's running speed is only average, but he has good instincts, and has obviously been well-coached by his father. He also evidences a love for the game, and is emotionally mature for his age.
Kotchman has 160 minor league games under his belt now, equivalent to a full season. In those games, he's hit .323 with 47 doubles, 16 homers, 87 walks, and just 58 strikeouts. His ratio of walks to at-bats and strikeouts is excellent, indicative of outstanding strike zone judgment and a bright future. We need to see how he adjusts to Double-A, but no one thinks he'll have trouble there once he gets his feet wet. The numbers confirm the scouting reports: this guy can hit.
Scouts and statheads agree that Kotchman's talent is genuine, but concerns about his ability to stay healthy are serious. Wrist and back injuries hampered him in 2001 and 2002. In 2003 it was a torn hamstring. Many of his problems seem flukey in nature ... he got hit in the face with a ground ball ... he got hit on the wrist by a pitch ... but there are concerns that his body is "tight" and prone to muscle pulls, hamstring trouble, and a sore back. There's certainly no lack of effort or conditioning here, as Kotchman works to keep himself in shape. But the fact remains that he's missed major portions of two pro seasons with injury problems. He'll have to prove his body is up to the rigors of a full major league campaign.
What to expect
Kotchman should adjust rapidly to Double-A pitching, and most observers think he'll be ready for major league action in 2005. Although he won't be a huge home run hitter, he is a threat to win batting titles and post excellent on-base percentages. The question boils down to health: can he avoid injury and develop his talent? Or will he always be fragile, perhaps like Nick Johnson of the Expos, who raked in the minors but hasn't quite lived up to expectations due to injuries.
John Sickels is the author of The Baseball Prospect Book 2004, which can be ordered through his Web site, Johnsickels.com. His other book, Bob Feller: Ace of the Greatest Generation, is also out, and can be ordered through on-line book outlets or your local bookstore. He lives in Lawrence, Kan., with his wife Jeri, son Nicholas, and feline friends Toonces and Spot.