Prospect Retrospect: 2002

Jeff Mathis was #1 on the 2002 Top 10 Prospects report after spending the year at Low-A Cedar Rapids.


Back on December 21 I promised to look back at the Top 10 Prospect reports I wrote from 2001 through 2005. December 21 was the 2001 report. Here’s a look at 2002.

The 2002 report was published in November, as I prefer to write mine after the season ends, including post-season fare such as fall instructional league and the Arizona Fall League. It also gives me an opportunity to see who the Angels might have let go at season’s end or chosen to protect on the 40-man roster.

Baseball America, the gold standard when it comes to baseball prospecting, typically publishes its Angels list early in the next year, just before spring training. So we’ll compare my 2002 list to their 2003 list, even though they’re separated by a couple months.

My 2002 list was:

  1. Jeff Mathis C
  2. Casey Kotchman 1B
  3. Francisco Rodriguez RHP
  4. Chris Bootcheck RHP
  5. Bobby Jenks RHP
  6. Joe Saunders LHP
  7. Jake Woods LHP
  8. Nathan Haynes OF
  9. Ervin Santana RHP
  10. Brian Specht SS

The Baseball America list was:

  1. Francisco Rodriguez RHP
  2. Casey Kotchman 1B
  3. Bobby Jenks RHP
  4. Jeff Mathis C
  5. Ervin Santana RHP
  6. Dallas McPherson 3B
  7. Joe Saunders LHP
  8. Rich Fischer RHP
  9. Joe Torres LHP
  10. Chris Bootcheck RHP

The BA report was written by analyst Josh Boyd, who’s currently the Director of Professional Scouting for the Texas Rangers.

In looking at Josh’s list, my first reaction is, “Why didn’t I have Dallas McPherson on my list?!”

He was certainly deserving at that point. Kotchman, Mathis and McPherson were the core of a talented group that came out of the June 2001 draft. The three played together at Rookie-A Provo in 2001, then moved up to Low-A Cedar Rapids in 2002. Kotchman and Mathis made my list, but why not Dallas? He posted an AVG/OBP/SLG of .277/.381/.427 with 15 HR. He struck out 128 times but also walked 78 times. He was a bit older than the other two, turning 22 in July, which put him on the outer edge of the top prospect curve.

So I really have no explanation. McPherson’s career was derailed, of course, by a chronic bad back but that didn’t manifest itself until the spring of 2003. About all I can think of is that it might have been a combination of the age issue, the strikeouts, and the 31 errors he committed at third base. Hindsight is 20/20, but in November 2002 Dallas was definitely deserving of Top 10 consideration.

Rich Fischer showed up on my Top 10 list a year later in November 2003, but an elbow injury eventually ended his career. Joe Torres fell off my list because of a combination of physical issues and mediocre results. In 2003, he’d undergo “Tommy John” surgery and his career was never the same.

Let’s look at each of my picks in retrospect.

1. Jeff Mathis C — Jeff’s season ended a bit early when he was hit in the face by a pitch on August 25 and shattered a cheekbone. The 19-year old still had quite a nice year, posting an AVG/OBP/SLG of .287/.346/.444 in 491 AB. Mathis was in the lineup nearly every day, catching in 80 games, and his second-half offense numbers tailed off, which is very typical for teenagers in that league. He committed only four errors and allowed only six passed balls. His current offense deficiencies didn’t manifest until Double-A Arkansas in 2004.

2. Casey Kotchman 1B — Casey was at or near the top of most analysts’ lists. I wrote at the time, “It’s believed that one day in the majors he might be capable of 40-50 HR.” That prediction obviously turned out to be wrong, although he certainly showed signs of power potential at higher levels. Josh Boyd wrote, “He has plenty of gap power now and projects to hit for above-average home run power as he matures,” so I wasn’t alone. Casey started in 2002 to suffer from a series of fluke injuries. In April, a runner spiked his foot at first base, and in July he missed seven weeks after he struck his left wrist on a bat lying across home plate as he slid in. Kotchman currently languishes on the Red Sox bench, having never manifested his potential.

3. Francisco Rodriguez RHP — Frankie didn’t make my 2001 list because I was worried about both his mechanical problems and mental attitude. The Angels in spring training decided to end his career as a starter, dumping him in the back of the Double-A Arkansas bullpen. In mid-May, I visited Little Rock and interviewed Travelers manager Doug Sisson. He said he was told to use Rodriguez two or three times a week, 30-40 pitches, when and how he wanted. Click here to listen to the interview. Charlie Thames began the year as the Travs’ closer, but when his elbow failed Frankie became the closer. The rest is history. Rodriguez was promoted to Triple-A Salt Lake in July, Anaheim in September and became a World Series star. It was a scenario no one anticipated, but it worked.

4. Chris Bootcheck RHP — One of two first-round draft picks in 2000, Chris was still on the fast track to Anaheim despite a 4.81 ERA in 19 starts at Double-A Arkansas. Promoted in mid-July to Triple-A Salt Lake, he posted a 3.81 ERA in nine starts, including a 2.86 ERA in five road starts away from high-octane Franklin Covey Field. Bootcheck would reach Anaheim in 2003, but never established himself as the starter he was projected to be .

5. Bobby Jenks RHP — Everyone knows Bobby’s story by now — if you don’t, go read my 2002 analysis — so no need to rehash that here. 2002 was typical of his minor league career — a suspension, a demotion, and then a brilliant audition in the Arizona Fall League. I see I wrote at the time that Jenks had just dumped his agent for Scott Boras, who I’d hoped might keep Bobby on the straight and narrow. It didn’t work, at least for a couple years.

6. Joe Saunders LHP — Selected by the Angels in the first round of the June 2002 draft, Joe signed the next day, made his pro debut June 28 at Provo, and finished the regular season with five starts for Cedar Rapids. He reported to spring training in 2003 with a torn labrum. Rather than undergoing surgery, Saunders spent the year doing rehab and picked up where he left off by reporting to High-A Rancho Cucamonga for 2004. He’s currently a fine established starter for the Angels.

7. Jake Woods LHP — I had Jake ranked higher than some other lists — BA had him at #15 — but he did eventually find his way to the major leagues with the Mariners. Seattle claimed him on waivers in December 2005 when the Angels tried to move him off the 40-man roster. He spent all of 2006 in the majors, posting a 4.20 ERA in 105 innings that included eight starts. Woods went back to the minors after that; he spent 2009 with the Phillies’ Triple-A team at Lehigh Valley, posting a 3.46 ERA in 80 2/3 innings, mostly as a reliever. He was a minor league free agent at season’s end, don’t know if anyone has picked him up.

8. Nathan Haynes OF — As I wrote in the 2001 review, a series of injuries would eventually rob this first-rounder of his major league potential. Nathan tore a thumb when he fell down rounding first in a spring training game and missed half of 2002, although he ended the year with two months at Triple-A Salt Lake. Nathan tried to make up some time in the Arizona Fall League. I wrote, “He could be the next Juan Pierre,” although he didn’t even achieve that mark.

9. Ervin Santana RHP — Ervin was still “Johan” at this point. His bogus birth certificate was discovered shortly after I wrote the review; he turned out to be eleven months older than first believed, which really wasn’t that big a deal. I wrote that he had mental maturity issues, not unusual for a young Dominican, which were responsible for some truly horrid outings that year at Low-A Cedar Rapids. Ervin still has his lapses in the big leagues, but when he’s right — which is most of the time — he’s tough to beat.

10. Brian Specht SS — Injuries began to take a toll on Brian’s career. After the 2002 season, he was diagnosed with a minor labrum tear that required surgery. During the season, he DH’d quite a bit in an attempt to rest the shoulder, but Brian tried to soldier through it. At age 22 in Double-A, Specht posted an AVG/OBP/SLG of .248/.321/.397 and committed errors at a rate of one every 2.7 games, although some of that could probably be blamed on the injury, and some more of it on the poor infield at Ray Winder Field. Brian would have one last hurrah in 2004 when he was named the outstanding rookie in the Angels’ major league spring training camp, but never got the call to the big leagues.


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