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Monday, January 24, 2005

PLAYER REVIEWS: CASEY KOTCHMAN AND DALLAS MCPHERSON
I'm not going to run player projections for these guys like I have for everyone else, basically because I don't have a reliable way of dealing with their minor league stats. So let's just talk about them, shall we?

One thing that is noticeable in both of these guys' minor league records is that their walk rates have been in steady decline as they've progressed to the majors. Now, obviously, walk rate isn't everything, but command of the strike zone becomes increasingly important as you get closer to the majors.

Is this cause for concern?

Here are their walk rates (BB/AB), with two other guys thrown in for comparison:

Level   Kotch   D-Mac   Salmon   Glaus

A .158 .150 .172 ---
AA .088 .146 .190 .207
AAA .070 .089 .222 .096
MLB .060 .075 .162 .159
What can we learn from this? Well, even guys like Salmon and Glaus, very patient major league hitters, walk less in the majors than they did in the minors (though Glaus' .159 is quite close to his minor league .161 total). I don't have intentional walk figures for the minors, but a possible explanation is that dominant hitters are pitched around less as they ascend, as they are both facing better pitchers (that can actually get them out) and are surrounded by better hitters (disincentivizing pitching around them). Also, facing better pitchers means that you are, by definition, facing pitchers with better control and walk less people. Sorry for sounding to tautological there ...

Of course, walk-drawing and plate discipline in general tends to go up as players age. I think McPherson will settle into a guy that walks at least once for every ten at-bats, maybe a bit more. This is going to be very important for McPherson, because with his strikeouts he does not project as a high-average hitter. Fifty walks in 500 AB will raise your OBP by almost .100, which is no small shakes, especially when you're probably gonna hit around .250. I'm not saying McPherson will accomplish that in 2005, but he'll get there. Will he be a guy like Glaus or Salmon that can walk 90-100 times a year? Based on their minor league records, I doubt it. McPherson is somewhere near Glaus in AAA walk rate, but Glaus blew through the PCL at such speed that there's some small sample size to deal with.

I'm just making this up, but I'd expect Dallas to be around a 240/310/490 or so this year. He's going to strike out a ton, maybe 150+ times. There will be rough stretches. But he could also walk about 50-60 times and hit 30 homers.

I'm not as concerned about McPherson's defense as I probably should be. In his coffee cup last year, he did not make an error. He did look skittish afield at times, but he also showed good reaction and instincts. It seemed like he was more prone to make mistakes when he had time to think about making a play, such as making a throw. Hard work on concentration and footwork -- and working with Alfredo Griffin -- should go a long way toward improving this. Griffin worked wonders with Eckstein and Adam Kennedy, and McPherson has the reputation of being a hard worker, so I'm optimistic. Add this to the fact that Dallas will be throwing to better first basemen than normal, and he'll likely have less errors than his minor league record may indicate.

In the long term, I think McPherson will do pretty well. He might have a 270/380/600 season or two in him, but I would be ecstatic if he just came within shooting distance of Troy Glaus' career 253/357/497. And remember, for all the power we've witnessed from McPherson, his minor league career Isolated Power (Extra Bases per At Bat) is .259, while Glaus' was an outrageous .332. And Glaus was 23 his first year as a full-time major league regular; McPherson started his age 23 year at A. We will be very fortunate if McPherson develops to the level of Glaus.

As for Kotchman, I know I've mentioned this before, but there's no real reason he shouldn't be starting in Los Angeles of Anaheim this year. The man -- excuse me, the kid -- hit .372 in the PCL last year. Okay, so it's a hitters' park in a hitters' league, so lop off a bunch of that to see what he would hit in the majors. Go ahead and lop off 70 points; you still have a .300 hitter. And while there's more to life than hitting .300, it's a hell of a place to start when you can barely drink legally.

But because The Punter can't play the outfield, Kotchman goes back to AAA to see if he can hit .400 this year. Given Erstad's fragility, it will of course come as no surprise to see Kotchman take a second hack at Wally Pipping Ersty at some point in 2005.

I think Kotch is going to develop into a hitter that takes Garret Anderson's peak (2002-2003) and adds 20 or 30 points to the average and another 10-15 walks. I'm projecting a lot of power for him, but he has what the scouts call a projectable body, and has hit a plethora of doubles in the minor leagues. Remember, Garret was a late bloomer in power; his minor league ISO was a mere .108, and didn't really kick in the majors until he was 28 years old. Kotchman's career minor league ISO is .177, and he averages 8.34 at bats per extra base hit where GA in the minors only got one every 12.57 at bats. Now, Garret's power development is a bit uncommon, but as Kotchman's already ahead of him at the same age, you'd have to think it looks pretty good for his future.

So I'm looking at Kotchman as a potential 330/380/540 guy at his peak, which seems really optimistic, but there you are. If he learns patience at the plate, he could be an absolute monster. As of right now, he only seems like a guy who will walk about 40-50 times a year, but even knocking that up to 75 would make him a consistent .400+ OBP player.

The only real negatives on Kotch as a player are the free swinging (he has to learn that grounding out on the second pitch is not necessarily better than striking out on the fifth) and the fact that he runs like a long-lost Molina. But he's fine defender already, and has a bright future.

Both of these guys do. I think Kotchman has the brighter one, if for no other reason than he is so much younger. But it will be exciting to see these guys at the Big A over the next years, and to see what kind of players they become.

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