Prospect Retrospect: 2003

Dallas McPherson hit 23 homers in 2003, including one off of a rehabbing Randy Johnson.


In recent weeks we’ve looked back at the Top 10 Prospect reports for 2001 and 2002 Now it’s time to look at 2003.

I began that article by referring to the top five on the list as “The Untouchables” — prospects with so much talent it was unlikely the Angels would trade them unless they received an overwhelming offer. They were Casey Kotchman, Jeff Mathis, Ervin Santana, Dallas McPherson and Bobby Jenks.

That turned out to be true, although Fate would intervene in the careers of McPherson and Jenks.

2003 was predicted to be a big year for the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. They would have Kotchman, Mathis and McPherson in the starting lineup, with Santana, Joe Torres and Jake Woods in the starting rotation. The team made it to the playoffs, although Kotchman and Torres was hurt much of the year, and Mathis, McPherson and Santana were promoted to Double-A Arkansas before season’s end. The Quakes took the California League’s South Division in the first half with a 40-30 record, but fell to 34-36 in the second half and lost three games to one to Inland Empire in the division playoffs.

A reminder that my lists were written at the end of each year, usually in November after the season and any post-season work such as fall instructional league and the Arizona Fall League. The Baseball America reports were published a couple months later, usually around January, so we’ll compare my November 2003 report to BA‘s early 2004 rankings.

My Top 10 list that year was:

  1. Casey Kotchman 1B
  2. Jeff Mathis C
  3. Ervin Santana RHP
  4. Dallas McPherson 3B
  5. Bobby Jenks RHP
  6. Alberto Callaspo 2B
  7. Chris Bootcheck RHP
  8. Brandon Wood SS
  9. Rich Fischer RHP
  10. Steve Andrade RHP

The BA list was:

  1. Casey Kotchman 1B
  2. Jeff Mathis C
  3. Dallas McPherson 3B
  4. Ervin Santana RHP
  5. Bobby Jenks RHP
  6. Alberto Callaspo 2B
  7. Brandon Wood SS
  8. Erick Aybar SS
  9. Rafael Rodriguez RHP
  10. Steven Shell RHP

Here’s how each of mine did in retrospect.

1. Casey Kotchman 1B — It was another injury-plagued year for Casey. He pulled a hamstring on May 1, took two weeks off, played although it was still sore and tore it three games later. After a rehab assignment to minor league camp in Mesa, Kotchman returned on August 1 and played every day, finishing with an AVG/OBP/SLG at Rancho of .350/.441/.524 in 206 AB. He was hit on the right wrist by a pitch in the last game of the playoffs and removed; click here to watch video of the injury. As you probably know, Casey is now on his fourth team, having been traded last week from the Red Sox to the Mariners where he’ll be reunited with former Angels minor league hitting instructor Ty Van Burkleo, now Seattle’s bench coach.

2. Jeff Mathis C — Mathis caught for the California League in their All-Star Game contest against the Carolina League, hosted at Rancho Cucamonga. His AVG/OBP/SLG in 378 AB were .323/.384/.500 as a 20-year old in the Cal League, still no sign of the hitting woes that have plagued him in the majors. He moved up to Double-A Arkansas in August where he hit .284/.364/.463 in 95 AB. BA analyst Jim Callis noted that Jeff threw out only 25% of baserunners, but that’s a misleading number that also relies on how well pitchers hold on runners. Callis wrote, “Only [Twins prospect Joe] Mauer rates ahead of Mathis among the game’s catching prospects.” Callis had Mathis taking over the Angels’ catching job in 2005, I had him taking over in 2006; he was actually handed the job in spring 2007, although he went back to the minors for more seasoning.

3. Ervin Santana RHP — “Johan” became “Ervin” Santana before the 2003 season once it was discovered he’d used a younger brother’s birth certificate to sign with the Angels, but the discrepancy was only ten months. Ervin joined Mathis on the California League All-Star roster, and finished the year with six starts at Double-A Arkansas. I wrote at the time, “Even when he doesn’t have his best stuff, he still demonstrates the poise to work out of jams and keep his team in the game.” Poise has been a bit of a problem now and then during his major league career, although his worst performances have been when he falls out of his mechanics. I expressed a concern about elbow tenderness he experienced in August, and that problem resurrected itself in 2009. Ervin turned 27 this month, which should be the prime of his career.

4. Dallas McPherson 3B — Dallas made the Top 10 list for the first time. He missed April when he suffered a lower back problem in spring training, the first of what would become a series of increasingly severe back injuries. Dallas didn’t show any after-effects at the time; he hit .308/.404/.606 with the Quakes in 292 AB and .314/.426/.569 with the Travelers in 102 AB. One career highlight happened on July 15, when he homered off a rehabbing Randy Johnson who was pitching for Lancaster at Rancho Cucamonga. Click here to watch the McPherson/Johnson matchup. I noted that McPherson’s defense had improved, and dismissed rumors that he might be moved to first base. Despite all the subsequent injuries, Dallas is still a third baseman. He missed all of 2009 due to his bad back, but recently signed a minor league contract with the Oakland A’s.

5. Bobby Jenks RHP — Bobby’s bad habits began to catch up with him when he suffered a “stress reaction” in his right arm, missing May and June. He posted a 2.17 ERA in 16 starts, striking out 103 and 83 innings, but I warned he’d have to conduct himself like a professional and defeat his personal demons for his career to advance, but in 2004 he would stumble and nearly destroy his career. We’ll tell that story in the 2004 Retrospect. He’s now one of the better closers in the A.L., pitching for the White Sox.

6. Alberto Callaspo 2B — Just as noteworthy as Alberto appearing on this list is the absence of his “Siamese Twin” pal, Erick Aybar. The two were the middle infield combination for Cedar Rapids. Erick’s numbers that year were good enough — .308/.346/.446 with 32 SB — but I was concerned about his reckless style of play that led to several minor injuries. Callaspo, a year older, hit .327/.377/.428. The Angels separated the two in 2004, with Alberto going to Double-A Arkansas while Aybar went to High-A Rancho Cucamonga. I noted that Callaspo didn’t strike out much and, although he didn’t walk much either, managed to find his way on base. Alberto was traded on February 28, 2006 to the Diamondbacks for relief pitcher Jason Bulger. He’s been in trouble with the law since then, arrested for a domestic violence charge in May 2007 and popped for drunk driving in June 2008. Arizona traded him to Kansas City in December 2007 for pitcher Billy Buckner. Playing full-time in 2009 at second base for the Royals, he hit .300/.356/.457 in 155 games. He’ll be 27 in 2010; hopefully, he’s conquered his demons as Jenks appears to have conquered his.

7. Chris Bootcheck RHP — One of two first-round draft picks in 2000, Chris struggled in the first half with Triple-A Salt Lake due to a forearm injury but in his last eleven starts posted a 2.66 ERA, quite impressive in the high-octane Pacific Coast League. I noted he had trouble pitching in the first inning, posting a 5.88 ERA in that frame. In future years, he never found his potential and took his minor league free agency in December 2008, signing with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Bootcheck spent most of 2009 at Triple-A Indianapolis, posting a 3.38 ERA in 40 relief appearances with 20 saves, then took his free agency at season’s end. He fell on the Top 10 lists from #1 in 2001 to #4 in 2002 to #7 in 2003 to off the list in 2004.

8. Brandon Wood SS — Brandon was the Angels’ first-round draft pick in June 2003. He began his career with 19 games at Rookie-A Mesa (.308/.349/.462), then reported to Provo for 42 games (.278/.348/.475). I wrote, ” Evocative of a very young Cal Ripken, Jr., Wood is tall and lean, and brings a power bat to the plate.” Through his career, Ripken moved between SS and 3B, and that’s been the path so far for Wood. “Depending on how his body fills out over the next few years, he could wind up in the big leagues at another position.” It appears he’ll be the Angels’ starting third baseman in 2010. The power bat has yet to materialize at the big-league level, but he hasn’t been given the chance to play regularly either. We should find out this year.

9. Rich Fischer RHP — A high school shortstop who pitched briefly in junior college, Rich was selected by the Angels in the 21st round of the June 2000 draft. Early in his career, it looked like this might be a great scouting job by Tim Corcoran. BA named Fischer #8 on their early 2003 list, after he’d posted a 3.50 ERA in 19 starts for Rancho Cucamonga and 4.23 in seven starts for Arkansas. He fell to #20 on the 2004 BA list after posting a 4.61 ERA in 26 starts during the 2003 season for the Travelers. I wrote in October 2003 that Fischer had been a project of Mike Butcher, who was his pitching coach in rookie ball. I noted that a mechanical flaw in Rich’s delivery had resulted in a drop of velocity; this might have been portent of the 2004 elbow injury that eventually derail his career. Rich returned to pitching briefly in 2007 for the independent Long Beach Armada, posting a 3.89 ERA in 44 innings, but appears to have left pro ball after that.

10. Steve Andrade RHP — Steve was an unlikely Top 10 candidate, a 23-year old reliever out of Cal State Stanislaus selected in the 32nd round of the June 2001 draft. But as sometimes happens with older relievers, they have a skill that’s enough to get them to the big leagues, and that’s what happened with Andrade. His funky, fluky delivery (Click here to watch a 2003 video of Andrade) of curves and a low 90s fastball was enough to get him to the big leagues for four relief apperances with Kansas City in 2006. The Blue Jays claimed him on waivers from the Angels in December 2004, the Devil Rays claimed him in the Rule 5 draft in December 2005, the Rays then sold him to the Padres, and three months later the Royals claimed him on waivers. K.C. released him in June 2006, and he was signed again by the Padres. He took his minor league free agency in October 2006, and signed again with the Rays. Clear as mud? It appears his last pro year was 2008, splitting the year between Tampa’s Double-A and Triple-A affiliates. In eight minor league seasons, Steve averaged 11.1 strikeouts and 3.7 walks per nine innings, posting a minor league career 3.01 ERA. No one seemed to believe enough in his game to give him an extended chance in the majors.


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