Rays Reclamation Projects: Casey Kotchman

By Jenna West

While last week’s installment of the series discussed Carlos Pena’s two stunts in Tampa Bay, the Rays found another reclamation project to man first base while Pena was away: Casey Kotchman.

Born and raised in St. Petersburg, Kotchman spent the first four seasons of his career with the Angels, who drafted him in 2001. Kotchman was a top prospect for a while, but he never could live up to his potential. After playing 100 games with the Angels in 2008, Kotchman was traded to the Atlanta Braves. During 2009, he spent 85 games in Atlanta before being traded to the Boston Red Sox and then he moved on to play for the Seattle Mariners in 2010. Kotchman also played at the minor league level at some point in each of his first five seasons, with 2010 being his first full season with a major league team. Kotchman had gotten chance after chance, but nothing worked out and his major league career was hanging by a thread.

In 2011, the Rays signed Kotchman to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. Kotchman failed to make the team put of spring training and he was set to start the season with the Triple-A Durham Bulls. However, after Manny Ramirez’s retirement on April 8, and Dan Johnson’ s struggles, Kotchman became the Rays’ starting first baseman. The Rays knew Kotchman brought solid defensive skills, considering his .998 career fielding percentage and strong reviews at every stop. Kotchman also set a new major league record in 2010 for consecutive errorless games at first base with 274 games.

No matter how certain the Rays were that Kotchman was a good fit for their defense, the first baseman had always struggled offensively. His highest batting average at .287 came in 2008, and his average dipped down to .217 in 2010. But perhaps playing in his hometown was all Kotchman needed to electrify his bat.

By May 10, Kotchman was hitting .355 with six RBIs, contributing equally to the Rays’ success both offensively and defensively. He remained consistent at the plate, as he was hitting .345 with 25 RBIs by early July. Kotchman finished the season with a .306/.378/.422 line with 10 homeruns and 48 RBIs. The first baseman kept up his .998 fielding percentage for the season, but his hot bat certainly sweetened the deal for the Rays, considering Kotchman began the season in Durham expected to do little in the major leagues.

Although the Rays signed Carlos Pena again in 2012 and Kotchman went on to play for the Cleveland Indians, Casey Kotchman was the perfect, yet unexpected, choice for the Rays and in 2011. Kotchman found a home with the Rays, who helped him excel at the plate for the first time in his career. They took a no-risk flier on a minor league contract on a player who had shown talent in the past, and the result was an incredible season. Every year the Rays sign several veterans to minor league deals for depth in Triple-A. Most don’t work out, but the risk is small and the reward can be significant when one pans out like Kotchman did.