Seattle acquires Kotchman, adds to makeover
First baseman exits Boston, looking to reinvigorate career
SEATTLE -- Casey Kotchman arrived at Safeco Field on Thursday afternoon with a Mariners cap on his head, a smile on his face, and new digits for his uniform in the works: No. 13.
Kotchman and the Mariners hope the bad luck that has slowed down the growth of a former first-round Draft pick and highly touted prospect that grew up in the Angels organization will finally be history in 2010. That's why the club traded utilityman Bill Hall and a Minor Leaguer to be named to the Red Sox for Kotchman, who was officially introduced by general manager Jack Zduriencik.
"You'll find him to be a quality person, a terrific individual and a guy who fits in very nicely with what we're trying to do here," Zduriencik said. "He's an outstanding first baseman and a player that I think still has upside. And people who join us here seem to have seasons where they've taken off."
With that last statement, Zduriencik might have been referring to departing first baseman Russell Branyan, who got a chance at a full year's worth of at-bats for Seattle in 2009 and made the most of it, hitting 31 home runs before back problems ended his season in late August. Branyan, a free agent, turned down a one-year offer from the Mariners early in the offseason and the team began looking elsewhere soon after.
In Kotchman, the Mariners get a player who was expected to be a big league star from the moment he was selected with the 13th pick in the 2001 Fist-Year Player Draft out of Seminole High School in Florida. His father, longtime Angels scout and rookie-ball manager Tom Kotchman, had groomed his son on pro ball as a child. Kotchman was a bat boy for future teammates Garret Anderson, Tim Salmon and Darin Erstad.
By the time he reached the Major Leagues in 2004 and notched his first hit off Mariano Rivera in Yankee Stadium, numerous clubs had tried to pry him from the Angels in trades and failed. He was the first baseman of the future in Anaheim.
But a series of unfortunate events occurred.
In 2006, a lengthy bout with mononucleosis limited Kotchman to 79 at-bats for the entire season. And even during a breakout 2007 campaign for the Angels in which he batted .296 with 11 home runs, 37 doubles, 68 RBIs, a .372 on-base percentage and .467 slugging percentage, Kotchman suffered a concussion when hit in the head by a thrown ball and a hand injury from being hit by a Rivera cutter, costing him 25 games.
And for the last two years, he hasn't had a chance to settle down in one place.
In 2008, Kotchman was batting .287 with 12 homers and 54 RBIs for the Angels when he was traded at the July 31 deadline along with reliever Stephen Marek to the Atlanta Braves for Mark Teixeira. He hit .242 in 43 games for the Braves and fared better last year in Atlanta, batting .282 with six homers and 41 RBIs (with a .409 OBP) in 87 games, but then he was shipped off again, this time in a deadline deal with Boston for Adam LaRoche. Kotchman batted .218 in 39 games with the Red Sox.
But there are several things the Mariners like about Kotchman.
One thing is he's 26 years old and another is that he's familiar with Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu, bench coach Ty Van Burkleo and new Seattle third baseman Chone Figgins from his time in the Angels organization.
Wakamatsu had a lot of good things to say about Kotchman.
Reached by phone, the Mariners skipper lauded Kotchman's solid defensive skills -- Kotchman has not made an error over his last 185 games (168 starts), a stretch that includes 1,584 total chances -- and plate discipline. Kotchman has struck out only 166 times in 1,871 plate appearances (once every 11.27 PA).
"We are getting a defensive first baseman who has a good idea at the plate," Wakamatsu said. "He's had some injuries and his power has yet to develop, but he's at the maturity stage of his career, like a lot of players, where the time is right to give him a chance to play and try to develop him."
Kotchman now figures to start at first base and continues to add to the flurry of moves the Mariners have made this winter, adding Figgins, starter Cliff Lee, reliever Brandon League, outfielder/designated hitter Milton Bradley and several intriguing Minor League signings that could bolster the catching corps.
"When you look at it, what was our strength from a year ago? Pitching and defense," Zduriencik said. "And I think we've put ourselves in a position where we're a better defensive club than we were a year ago, I think our bullpen can be stronger than it was a year ago, but everybody has to achieve.
"I think that we've got some guys that are going to put the ball in play and are going to challenge other clubs in terms of [wearing down] pitching."
Kotchman said he admired the "plethora of moves" the Mariners have made this winter "as a baseball fan" and is elated to now be a part of it as a player.
"It's exciting to see an organization being proactive and improving," Kotchman said.
"To be part of something new and fresh, I think that's what everybody's feeling here. We can have something special here."
Doug Miller is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.