Rays Reclamation Projects: Casey Kotchman

By Robbie Knopf

Casey Kotchman owes the Rays. They finally got his career back on track- at least for the moment.

Casey Kotchman was always a great prospect. Kotchman was the 13th overall pick by the Angels in the 2001 MLB Draft out of Seminole High School in Florida.  From 2001 to 2005, Kotchman worked his way up from Rookie ball to Triple-A, posting a .326/.408/.496 line and ranking among Baseball America’s top 25 prospects each year from 2002 to 2005, getting higher up the rankings each year. He was hitting for average, he was drawing walks, and the only disclaimer was that his power wasn’t showing up- he peaked at 10 home runs each in 2003 and 2005. But Kotchman had a typical first baseman’s frame at 6’3″, 220, and the hope was that the power would eventually come. It didn’t. In 2007, Kotchman was the Angels’ regular first baseman and posted a .296/.372/.467 line with 37 doubles, 11 homers, and 68 RBI. He was fine, but he just didn’t hit homers. But in 2008, his line fell to .287/.327/.448 with 24 doubles, 12 homers, and 54 RBI in 100 games and the Angels had seen enough, trading him and relief prospect Steve Marek to the Atlanta Braves to rent Mark Teixeira.

Kotchman would up playing 130 games for the Braves between 2008 and 2009 and he posted just a .267/.346/.378 line with just 24 doubles, 8 homers, and 61 RBI before he was traded to the Red Sox for Adam LaRoche. In 39 games with the Red Sox, Kotchman hit just .218 with 3 doubles and 1 homer, and before 2010 he was traded to the Mariners for Bill Hall. After a horrific season with the Mariners (.217/.280/.336 with 20 doubles, 9 homers, and 51 RBI), Kotchman became a free agent.

No one particularly wanted Kotchman. He was an awful-hitting first baseman who couldn’t even hit for power. But the Rays decided to sign him as insurance in case Dan Johnson flopped after being given the first base job. As we know, Johnson did indeed falter (until Game 162) and the Rays gave him the first base job. Kotchman had some BAbip luck going on all season, but the Rays stuck with him even when he struggled and he delivered a .306/.378/.422 line with 24 doubles, 10 homers, and 48 RBI in 146 games. The Rays gave him a chance despite his flaws and he managed to play pretty well and get a 1 year, 3 million dollar contract from the Indians this offseason.

Sometimes players living up to their talent is just a matter of opportunity. The Rays gave Kotchman a chance and he played well. Kotchman will never be the very good starting first baseman scouts thought he could be. He still isn’t established- he’s hitting .222 with a .639 OPS for the Indians and could very well be benched at some point. But the Rays gave him a chance and he cashed in to get a major league contract.