Angels' Winning Ways Begin With Kotchman
Big league dad plays dual role as scout, minor league manager
Angels scouting director Eddie Bane is fond of saying that the organization drafts players and then sends them to Kotch to see if they can play.
Kotch is Tom Kotchman, a 26-year veteran of the Angels who helps mold young players into professionals in his role as manager for Rookie-level Orem. But that accounts for just four months of his year.
The rest of the time, Kotchman, 55, serves as an area scout in Florida, covering roughly three-quarters of the fourth-largest state in the union. In his words, his area encompasses "just south of the Tampa Bay area over to Daytona Beach, then north to Jacksonville and west down I-10 to Pensacola.
"It's a fertile area with a lot of baseball being played. Physically, it's impossible to scout the whole area because you're always worrying about the people you miss. I call it controlled paranoia."
Cutting through that paranoia is Kotchman's strong track record in the state. Among his scouting finds, Howie Kendrick, Jeff Mathis, Scot Shields and Bobby Wilson all played for last year's American League West winners.
Other teams have shown respect for Kotchman's work. In the past two big league Rule 5 drafts, the Angels have lost (if only temporarily) Bobby Cassevah, David Herndon, Bobby Mosebach and Darren O'Day. Kotchman signed all four righthanders.
Back in 2001, he scouted and signed his son Casey, a first baseman whom the Angels selected 13th overall from Seminole (Fla.) High. The Kotchmans still call Seminole home, and Casey, now with the Mariners, returns to the small Gulf Coast suburb north of St. Petersburg each offseason to put in work with Tom.
But Kotchman is a man who wears many hats—not only manager and scout, but also family man, teacher, evaluator and baseball lifer. However, it wasn't until he gave up his big league aspirations that all his passions aligned, setting him on the path toward becoming an Angels institution.
Twice selected in the eighth round of the January draft out of Chipola (Fla.) JC, Kotchman declined to sign each time, instead heading to Georgia Southern in 1976. He signed with Reds as a nondrafted free agent the following year but played in just 103 minor league games, mostly as a third baseman, in 1977 and '78.
The 29-year-old Kotchman latched on with the Angels in 1984, having spent his first five post-playing years as a minor league manager with the Red Sox and Tigers. As a rookie skipper in 1979, he led the unaffiliated Auburn Red Stars in the New York-Penn League to a 22-45 (.328) record, which remains his managerial low point.
With the Angels, Kotchman worked his way from the California to the Pacific Coast League in his first six years, culminating in a three-year run with the Triple-A Edmonton Trappers that lasted through 1989.
Feeling the pull of family life, Kotchman, then a rising managerial prospect, changed course. Back home, his wife Susan worked full-time as an assistant principal while raising 6-year-old Casey and 3-year-old daughter Christal.
"You see your wife and kids for about three weeks in seven months," he said. "It was such a dramatic change for me that I realized that I needed to be a better father. I needed to be around more.
"Basically, at that point I didn't care if I coached in the big leagues, even though that's the goal for everybody—because it's the big leagues on so many levels."
Kotchman and the Angels arrived at a compromise for the 1990 season. He could continue on as manager with short-season Boise of the Northwest League, working from June through August, while dedicating his energies during the other nine months to scouting his native Florida. And for his first five years, Kotchman roved the entire Sunshine State—that's 800 miles from Pensacola south to Key West.
"Scouting allowed me to instead of leaving for spring training in February, now I don't leave the state until the middle of June. It just gave me a lot of options."
"Whenever I give a talk, I like to say that the two best area scouts I've come across are Tom Kotchman and (Rays special assignment scout) Bart Braun," Bane said. "But nobody has signed as many major league players as Tom has.
But even though he's been at it 20 years, Kotchman sometimes runs into resistance. "One of the biggest misconceptions I run into is when you go to a kid's house, and the parents will ask me, 'So how much do you get out of this?'
"I say, 'Maybe when your son gets to the major leagues, I'll get a call or a text message.' Last year one of my players, Bobby Mosebach, texted me, 'Got the call to the big leagues. Thanks.' "
Brief as it was, the sentiment registered with Kotchman, an inductee in the inaugural class
of the Professional Baseball Scouts Hall of Fame in 2008.
Kotchman's first draft in 1990 yielded little of significance, but things changed drastically the following year when the Angels used two first-round selections to take Florida State first baseman Eduardo Perez and Miami catcher Jorge Fabregas. Both reached the big leagues with the Angels.
Further down that '91 draft board, in the 33rd round, Kotchman recommended Hurricanes outfielder Orlando Palmeiro, who would carve out a 13-year big league career as a reserve outfielder and pinch-hitter. Palmeiro stuck around with the Angels for eight years, long enough to play on their 2002 World Series winner.
"The ones after the 10th round, you probably had more of something to do with it," Kotchman said, "because they're less seen by front office."
That's what makes Kendrick, a .302 hitter in 357 big league games, and Shields so notable. The Angels nabbed the former from St. Johns River CC, making him a 10th-round pick. In the case of Shields, a Fort Lauderdale kid who attended Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee, he fell to the Angels in the '97 draft's 38th round. Before his injury last season, Shields had been a key bullpen component for five Angels playoff teams.
"The tough part about scouting is that you're going to miss on guys," Kotchman admitted. "You can only be in one place at one time. Your better have coaches at high schools, junior colleges and four-year schools who you can talk to and trust."
He remembers vividly one such case from the 2002 draft in which he and the Angels missed out on a player. The Dodgers made a 17th-round selection of third baseman-turned-catcher Russell Martin, who later matured into a big league all-star. "It's a perfect case where scouting is imperfect," Kotchman said. "Martin was not a polished product at all while he was at Chipola, but he's a case where a strong work ethic made the difference. It's important to know what's inside the player."
Kotchman's longevity and diligence are almost mythical, so it's only fitting that so is his mode of transportation: a gold 1998 Chrysler Town & Country van he affectionately dubbed Goldie.
"It broke down on me last year coming back from scout day at the University of Florida," Kotchman said. "It had just about reached 299,999 miles—even—almost like it wouldn't let me get to 300. But it needed surgery, which turned out to be a new transmission."
Pulling double duty leaves Kotchman feeling worn out when he returns from the Pioneer League season, which crams 76 games into 82 days and usually entails another week for the playoffs. But dipping one foot into player development waters does benefit Kotchman. Working on both the amateur and pro side enables him to bridge any differences between the two departments, avoiding rifts that could cripple an organization.
Another side benefit: Kotchman is more able to compare an amateur with a pro player he's seen in the Pioneer League, whether with Orem or not, making it easier for Bane to have a clear image of the potential draftee.
But by missing the summer months in Florida, Kotchman often feels his controlled paranoia nagging at him.
"The best thing you can have in any job is experience. Unfortunately, in scouting I'm sort of at a disadvantage. I don't get to see all the high school kids in the summer showcases and I don't get to see college players on the Cape or in the Valley. I don't get to see batters hitting with wood or pitchers going against it.
"Also with high school hitters, a lot of time during the season they don't get pitched to. Other teams will walk a guy two or three times intentionally because they're trying to win. That's where the showcases are beneficial."
Kotchman concedes that his track record with high school hitters is not as strong as it could be because of his time away. "You've just got to trust your eyes, your ears and your instincts. The talent is so concentrated in this state that there are no days off. Sometimes you just hope it rains really hard, so that you can get caught up on your reports."
Even with his stature in the organization, Kotchman asks for no favors from his scouting director. "He follows the same procedure as any other scout," Bane said. "He runs names by (East crosschecker) Mike Silvestri and (national crosscheckers) Ric Wilson and Jeff Malinoff.
"Tom doesn't receive any special treatment, and he wouldn't want it that way. He doesn't need to check with me on every detail, but he does. That's just the type of person he is."
Taking Time To Teach
"I feel uncomfortable talking about myself," Kotchman said. "For me, I'm just doing my job—or jobs.
"The scouting side is so much more difficult, because as the manager, your schedule is already printed out. The best part of the scouting is that I know I'll be on the field in June. And that's where I love to be."
Easy or not, his managerial résumé is staggering. In 31 seasons total, his teams are 1,574-1,323, good for a .543 winning percentage. Considering his 26 years with the Angels, his record stands at 1,346-1,008 (.572).
Looking just at his two decades as a scout and short-season ball manager, Kotchman's clubs have won a tick more than 60 percent of their games. His record of 903-599 includes eight league titles, four each in the Northwest and Pioneer leagues.
"I'm spoiled and blessed with the scouts and coaches we have in this organization. They are who make you who you are," Kotchman said. "It's so much easier to teach and to develop when you win. And I can tell you, championships are not easy."
It's no fluke that Kotchman's teams have performed as well as they have. The consummate player's manager, he makes an effort to learn one thing unique to each player, because as he says "players remember that first year they play. It's just a special time."
"I like to have all the signing scouts leave me a voicemail covering everything not in the scouting report—the hobbies, the family stuff," he said.
"It's important to tell the players who they remind you of from the Angels system, or those traded to other teams. I put all the old (Provo/Orem) rosters on the board and highlight where they're at now."
That's an honor roll that includes present-day Angels like Erick Aybar, Kendrick, Mathis, Ervin Santana, Joe Saunders, Reggie Willits and Brandon Wood. And because of Orem's proximity to the Angels' Triple-A affiliate in Salt Lake City, Provo alum Bobby Wilson (Class of '03) stopped by last summer during the all-star break to take batting practice and mentor the young Owlz. Kotchman could not have asked for a more inspirational visitor than Wilson, a 49th-round draft-and-follow who worked his way into shape and scrapped his way to the big leagues.
Bane didn't know what to expect when he flew into Provo during his first year with the Angels, 2004. "I expected a typical baseball manager—you know, with the first-year players (Kotchman's) going to be tough on them," he said. "But he's not tough on them at all. After each game, all the players sit down for an hour or so to go over what they did right and what they did wrong. It's one of his real strengths—he really molds those kids into professionals.
"His saying is: 'The first half of the season is for them; the second half is for us.' "
Bane went on to describe Kotchman's more memorable motivational methods, aimed at loosening up players, dissipating pressure and promoting team unity.
Kotchman makes liberal use of humorous monologues by former pro wrestling superstar The Rock, a.k.a. actor Dwayne Johnson, to great effect, particularly his catchphrase "It doesn't matter what you think!"
"The players really latch on to the lingo," Kotchman said. "One time, one of the young Latin players came up to me and asked me how I felt. I said, 'Well, I feel . . .' Then he came back with, "It doesn't matter how you feel!' That bit's 10 years old, but still effective."
In another memorable moment, this time on a bus trip to Billings, Mont., during the '03 playoffs, Kotchman boarded the team bus in full Army fatigues, including "face paint, a plastic machine gun, the whole thing." The team had recently viewed the movie "We Were Soldiers," which resonated with the players.
The stunt might have loosened the players too much. Needing to win two in a row to stave off elimination, the Angels lost 2-0 that night. Kotchman vowed never to don the fatigues again.
Not many in the game have juggled both managing and scouting as successfully as Kotchman has. But then no one in the game is in his unique position. He links the organization's past to its future and bridges its minor league system to the majors. He's the ultimate ambassador for the Angels.
"It's hard to get guys who've come from all over to do things together," Bane said, "but by the end of the time their time there, they're all Angels. This is something that is unique to our organization. Really, it's unique to Tom."
|We knew that Angels scout Tom Kotchman had an impressive track record with uncovering talent. To put it in perspective, BA's Conor Glassey dug through the last five Prospect Handbooks (2006-2010) and made a spreadsheet with the signing scout for each player who made his way into a Top 30 list. Here are the U.S.-based area scouts who were responsible for signing the most players in the book between those years.
||S. Fla./Southern Calif.
||Jerry Owens and Collin Balester
||Puerto Rico/S. Fla.
||Ben Zobrist and Hunter Pence
||So. Calif./Pacific NW
||Chuck James and Tyler Flowers
||C.&N. Florida, Ala.
||N.C., S.C., Georgia
||Bobby Parnell and Reese Havens
||Clayton Richard and Chris Getz