Baseball America’s Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player’s long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven’t exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2004.
The Walt Disney Company capped its four-year ownership of the Angels with a World Series championship in 2002 and made way for new owner Arte Moreno last May. Moreno�s first year wasn�t unlike most non-2002 seasons in Anaheim: lackluster.
The Angels fought off the Rangers to avoid a last-place finish in the American League West, but finished 77-85 and became just the second team in the wild-card era to fail to reach the playoffs the year after winning the World Series. While Anaheim rarely displayed the same magic it had over the final three months of the 2002 season, Moreno didn�t allow the excitement to die down.
Shortly after taking over the club, he lowered beer prices. Then he lowered the cost of some tickets and refused to raise any of them for 2004. While they were a disappointment on the field, the Angels did top the 3 million barrier in attendance for the first time ever. Most significant, Moreno allowed general manager Bill Stoneman to be aggressive in the open market during the offseason, something rarely permitted during the Disney reign.
During their 2002 run, the Angels� only significant move was to add Alex Ochoa. After the World Series, they did almost nothing to upgrade the club. And when Anaheim slumped last year, its only move was to trade swingman Scott Schoeneweis to the White Sox for three young pitchers.
Compare that to this offseason. The Angels struck quickly to add two of the best starters on the free-agent market, Bartolo Colon (four years, $51 million) and Kelvim Escobar (three years, $18.75 million). After already bolstering their outfield with Jose Guillen (two years, $6 million), they came out of nowhere in January to get the biggest free-agent prize of all in Vladimir Guerrero (five years, $70 million).
Not only did Moreno shell out $145.75 million for four players, but baseball�s first Hispanic owner signed four Hispanic stars. It�s the first real attempt the team has made to reach out to its region�s growing Latin American community. If Moreno�s first nine months with the club show anything, it�s that the Angels won�t quietly take a back seat to the Dodgers in southern California any longer. The new acquisitions don�t guarantee an instant turnaround but certainly provide reason for optimism in a softening AL West.
So too does the farm system, which is in better shape than it ever has been. Elite prospects Casey Kotchman, Jeff Mathis, Dallas McPherson and Ervin Santana are about a year from being ready to make an impact in Anaheim. In August, however, Stoneman fired scouting director Donny Rowland.
Rowland and his handpicked staff had inherited a destitute system and built it into one of the top three in baseball. Rowland was instructed to pursue high-ceiling talent, and he delivered. The decision to relieve him along with national crosscheckers Hank Sargent and Guy Mader came as a shock to many in the industry. A behind-the-scenes rift between Rowland and Stoneman led to his downfall, and Stoneman replaced him with former Devil Rays special assistant Eddie Bane.
Top Prospect: Casey Kotchman, 1b
Age: 21 Ht.: 6-3 Wt.: 210 Bats: L Throws: L
Drafted: HS�Seminole, Fla., 2001 (1st round)
Signed by: Donny Rowland
Background: Kotchman has been Anaheim�s top position prospect since signing for a $2.075 million bonus in 2001. His father Tom has enjoyed a long career in player development and scouting with the Angels, and he served as Casey�s adviser. Kotchman was considered one of the most advanced hitters in the draft while leading Seminole (Fla.) High to the 2001 national championship. A variety of injuries hampered his progress and limited his playing time in his first three seasons. Last year a torn right hamstring kept him on the shelf for nearly three months in the first half of the season at high Class A Rancho Cucamonga. He was knocked out of the California League playoffs when he was hit by a pitch on the wrist. He was hit in the face during instructional league and had to be shut down during the Arizona Fall League when he reinjured his hamstring. Wrist and back injuries limited Kotchman in his first two seasons, but nothing seems to keep him from raking when he�s in the lineup.
Strengths: Kotchman has a fluid swing in the classic lefthander�s mold of a Todd Helton or Will Clark, and he creates explosive contact with the fat part of the bat on a consistent basis. He displays uncanny strike-zone awareness and early-pitch recognition. He manages to put himself in good hitter�s counts by rarely chasing balls out of the zone. He maintains his aggressiveness, though. Kotchman is content to smack hard line drives all over the field and into the alleys. He saves most of his power for batting practice and is still learning when to use it during games. He projects to hit 25-plus homers a year. Defensively, he�s as good as any first baseman in the minors, combining good instincts, accurate throws and excellent footwork around the bag. Growing up around pro clubhouses with his father, Kotchman was well prepared for pro ball.
Weaknesses: Staying healthy. Several of Kotchman�s injuries have been freak accidents, but some scouts wonder if he�s injury prone and why. Some have noticed his body tighten up since high school. He spent this offseason in Arizona conditioning himself in hopes of preventing another injury. He deserves credit for not allowing the lack of playing time frustrate him or keep him from hitting. Kotchman doesn�t run well, but he isn�t a clogger and his instincts give him an advantage on the bases.
The Future: The Angels� 2001 draft could go down as one of the strongest in recent history if Kotchman, Jeff Mathis and Dallas McPherson all continue on their current tracks. Despite his persistent injuries, Kotchman probably would excel in Triple-A right now. The Angels are more likely to take a conservative approach and assign him to Double-A Arkansas to begin 2004. He profiles as prototypical No. 3 hitter.