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Prospect Retro: Neal Cotts

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Per reader request, a Prospect Retro for Neal Cotts

Neal Cotts was drafted by the Oakland Athletics in the second round in 2001, out of Illinois State University. His pro debut was successful: he went 4-2, 2.73 with a 78/28 K/BB ratio in 66 innings combined between Vancouver in the Northwest League and Visalia in the California League. His fastball was just in the upper 80s, but he mixed it effectively with his curveball and changeup. I gave him a Grade C+ in the 2002 book, impressed by his early performance but wanting to see what he'd do against Double-A competition.

Cotts remained in the California League in 2002, going 12-6, 4.12 for Modesto. He posted a 178/87 K/BB in 138 innings. His K/IP was very impressive, but his walk rate was too high. I left his grade at C+, but noted that he had to reduce the walk rate at higher levels. "He gives up way too many free passes for a guy without a blazing heater" was the comment. The Oakland braintrust apparently agreed, and traded him to the White Sox over the winter in the Billy Koch/Keith Foulke deal.

Assigned to Double-A Birmingham by the Pale Hose, Cotts went 9-7, 2.16, with a 133/56 K/BB in 108 innings. His command was better, and he maintained his strong strikeout rate, while allowing only two homers. His walk rate was still higher than ideal, but given everything else it was OK. He was hit hard in four starts for the White Sox down the stretch, and seemed destined to begin 2004 in Triple-A. I gave him a Grade B- in the 2004 book.

Cotts made the major league roster with a strong spring training in '04, earning a bullpen role. He posted a 5.65 ERA, but in '05 he emerged as a pen mainstay, going 4-0, 1.94.

Before penciling Cotts into your fantasy plans for '06, please note the following.

  1. 65.1 innings, 61 hits allowed, 13 homers, 58/30 K/BB, 5.65 ERA
  2. 60.1 innings, 38 hits allowed, 1 homer, 58/29 K/BB, 1.94 ERA.
Note that his K/BB ratio is virtually the same this year as it was last year. The huge improvement came in his H/IP and his home run rate. Note that H/IP has a lot to do with team defense and luck. Will Cotts be as hit-lucky in '05 as he was in '04? What about the gigantic drop in his home run rate? Is that sustainable?

My thinking is that Cotts will stabilize somewhere between his '04 and '05 numbers. He is a useful pitcher, but I will be surprised if sub-2.00 ERAs become frequent entries on his resume.