One of the things I find most interesting during the Hot Stove season is to find a few MLB free agent nuggets — guys who, for lack of a better expression, fly under the radar a bit. These are guys who will come (relatively) cheap but, in my estimation, are likely to provide significant value to the right team. It’s easy to pine for Albert Pujols, but only the truly wise saw Jim Eisenreich as a guy who’d become a key player on the 1993 Phillies run to the NL Pennant.
Today my candidate is Casey Kotchman. A much better than average first baseman, and a career .268 hitter, he may indeed have had a career year last year when he went .306/.378/.422 for the Rays in 563 plate appearances. On the heels of a miserable 2010 campaign, he appeared much more like the top prospect he was as a first round pick (13th overall) in 2001. I’m not suggesting he’ll replicate or improve on those numbers, though it is possible that playing regularly for the first time in quite a while helped. But he wouldn’t be the first one time blue chipper to find his stride late and, even if he reverts to his career .268/.336/.398 ways, he’s a solid performer that fits in well with a team built to win with pitching and defense.
The remarkable consistency of his play over the years suggests last year’s bump was an aberration (as does his 139 point jump in average for times reaching base on balls put in play: either he got lucky last year and a lot more fell in or he suddenly learned to barrel it up a lot better). But he does bring intangibles that suggest he just might settle in at the higher level of play. He was on the 2001 national champion team of Seminole High School in Seminole, Florida, where he showed enough promise to warrant a first round selection in the draft. He is the son of Tom Kotchman, longtime Angels’ minor league manager and scout. Give me a manager’s or scout’s kid any day. All he’s missing is the big time Division I background — which he would have gotten if he hadn’t been drafted by the Angels.
Assuming last year’s performance doesn’t drive him into the big bucks category, I’m making him my first “under the radar” guy of this Hot Stove season.