2017 Tony Gwynn Award: Tom Kotchman
Back in June of 2009, after the first round of the MLB Draft was completed, Angels scouting director Eddie Bane headed to the bathroom of the team’s Marriott hotel.
Bane had already selected Mike Trout with the team’s 25th pick, in addition to three other players who would go on to make the big leagues.He didn’t know for sure at the time, but it was an amazing group of selections for just the first day of the draft.
Tom Kotchman, Bane’s Florida area scout at the time, was prepared to make the second day just as impactful.
“I went to take a leak in the bathroom and Kotch walks in and stands kind of next to me and whispers something,” Bane said. “I said, ‘What?’ And he said, ‘Patrick Corbin.’
“‘Yeah, yeah I remember him, the lefthander from Chipola? Yeah I hope we get him. Make sure you remind me in the seventh or eighth round that we’re going to get that guy.’
"Kotchman said: ‘Nope, you need to take him with the next pick or Atlanta’s going to take him.’
“‘What? We didn’t talk about him that high.’
“I’m just telling you, he’s going with the next pick to Atlanta unless we take him.’”
With their first pick of the second day, the final selection of the second round, the Angels drafted Patrick Corbin, who has since been worth more than 26 of the 30 players taken in the second round before him, per Baseball-Reference WAR.
Eight years later, Tom Kotchman will tell you that story isn’t exactly true. That his old scouting director and current colleague within the Red Sox organization just likes to embellish a bit in regards to Corbin, “Kotch”—as he’s known around the league—and the excellent 2009 draft.
But there’s a reason people tend to embellish stories about Kotch, and it’s the same reason that many others are just flat out true. Since the ‘90s, Kotch has served in one of baseball’s unique roles, as both a minor league manager and a Florida-based scout with the Angels and Red Sox organizations—with remarkable success in both positions. For that, Kotchman is our 2017 Tony Gwynn Award winner. The Tony Gwynn award is given to someone who has made lasting contributions to baseball. Kotchman joins long-time college coach Augie Garrido and Cal Ripken Jr. as Gwynn award recepients.
After taking over as manager for the California Angels Class A affiliate, the Boise Hawks, in 1990, Kotch has won 10 total league championships through managerial stints in the Northwest, Pioneer and Gulf Coast Leagues. Most recently Kotchman won back-to-back GCL titles with the GCL Red Sox in 2014 and 2015.
“They give out rings to those guys that win. And they’re nice rings,” said Bane, who’s now a special assignment scout with the Red Sox. “But it seemed like I’d get one every year from Tom because he wanted to make sure I got one from the Pioneer League too. So for a while there it felt like I was getting one every year.”
It must have seemed like he was signing future major leaguers every year as well. Kotch is responsible for signing players like Corbin, Howie Kendrick in the 10th round of 2002 and nondrafted free agent Darren O’Day in 2006. Despite not serving as an area scout in recent years with the Red Sox, Kotch—who is currently a crosschecker in the state of Florida as well as Boston's GCL manager—is responsible for signing nine big league players since 2010.
“He signed more players than everybody else,” Bane said. “Everybody else put together, mostly. Scouting directors would hire a new guy in Florida and guys would tell them, ‘Make sure you don’t tell Kotchman everything you know.’”
That included Bane’s own son, Jaymie, who now works with the Red Sox as a major league scout. Jaymie got an early lesson in the pervasive manner that Kotch controlled the state Florida back in 2006.
“(Jaymie) told me, ‘I’ve got a guy in Florida I’m going to sign in the draft,” Bane recalled. “‘Nobody knows about him. I’m going to get him. I’ve got the money done and everything.’
The player was O’Day.
“And I didn’t lie to my son, but I told him, 'I don’t know, you better be sure.' I think Jaymie offered Darren 10 or 15 thousand dollars more than what Tom had. But Tom signed him. Tom was the manager in Boise . . . He could promise O’Day that before he went to med school, why don’t you try pitching professionally a little while and see how you advance up the ladder? And more than that, I’ll be your first manager in the minor leagues. Because he was.”
Kotchman admits that managing has helped him as a scout, but also that his time as a scout has helped him become a better manager.
“It really does,” Kotchman said. “When you’re scouting, you compare guys. It’s not easy, but it makes it easier. You compare them to guys you had on your Rookie league team or in your league. And then you compare them to players you’ve had in the past with the Angels or whoever. When you were at A ball or Double-A or Triple-A. Scouting is about comparisons, where your summations, when the scouting director reads it, should paint a picture for him what this player is or who it reminds you of.”
But doing both jobs also has its challenges. The biggest one being that each and every year, Kotchman gives every other Florida scout a two and a half month head start on next year’s draft class. He overcomes that with a work ethic that his boss, Mike Rikard—Boston’s vice president of amateur scouting—witnessed first hand.
“I go down to the GCL this summer to see our guys,” Rikard said. “And I’m pumped up like you always are after the draft and excited to go see the drafted players. And my goal for the day was to try to beat Kotch to the yard.
“So I show up extra early and I’m kind of waiting there. There’s no one really in the parking lot and I’m thinking, alright I’m going to beat him. And I look out on the field and there’s this guy, basically raking the field. I’m like, we’ve got a field crew here, I know that can’t be Kotch out there. And I look out there while the sun is coming up and Kotch is out there on the field, breaking it in.”
Back in 1979 in the New York-Pennslyvania League where Kotchman got his first shot as a manager, there was no field crew. There wasn’t a groundskeeper. The 1979 Auburn Redstars didn’t even have a trainer. So Kotch simply did more than one job. Just like he’s still doing today.
“It tested you real quick to see if this is something you want to do,” Kotchman said of that 1979 season. “And then however many decades later that’s it. You were the youngest manager and now it’s come full circle and now you’re the oldest. And I’m going holy crap . . . It’s been fun. It’s been a fun ride.
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“I’m on the last lap of that mile, I just don’t know where I’m at in that lap. It’s still fun. I still have passion for it. Boston’s been great, it would be a great place to retire. But right now I don’t want to hear about retirement, I’m looking forward to getting some time off here and then when the bell rings in January—just get after it.”