August 28, 2012
When Loney was Better than Gonzalez, and Kotchman was Better than Both
I've wanted to write about this for years, and now that Adrian Gonzalez and James Loney have been traded for each other, I have an excuse. Casey Kotchman wasn't traded for either but in my mind fits in the same group of “Promising Young Southern California First Basemen of the Mid-Oughts” that is as meaningless to the rest of the world as it is cumbersome to say.
But this is my habit. Association by guilt. Say Jake Peavy, I immediately think of Dennis Tankersley. Going back further, mention Ron Oester, and I think of Tom Herr, Glenn Hubbard, Johnny Ray, and Steve Sax. It's a reflex reaction. I can't not think of the other members of a set when I think of one.
This is how Kotchman ends up here, as an awkward third wheel. As Gonzalez was in San Diego and Loney in Los Angeles, so Kotchman was between the two in Anaheim. They are forever inseparable to me because of these geographical, positional, and temporal accidents.
All have moved on to different locales and enjoyed varying degrees of success. Gonzalez has blossomed into a star, while Kotchman and Loney have shown glimpses of greatness surrounded by larger stretches of mediocrity, or worse—by big-league standards, of course. They are good enough to hang around and be derided for not being better than they are, which may not be the most satisfying way to travel through life, but which pays the bills and then some.
Before they proceeded in their divergent directions, Gonzalez, Kotchman, and Loney were highly regarded prospects. What follows is not intended to mock anyone's talent-identifying ability, nor is it intended to diagnose what went wrong in two of the three cases. It simply examines the different paths these three players took, and how where they are now isn't necessarily where we once thought they would be. It serves as a humble reminder that drafting and developing talent is hard. That ranking talent is hard. That baseball is hard.
For the purpose of this exercise, we will lean heavily on the Baseball America Prospect Handbook, specifically the 2003, 2004, and 2005 editions. These volumes contain, among many wonderful things, lists of the top 50 prospects identified by four different experts at a certain point in time. These experts also release a joint yearly top-100 list (hereafter referred to as BA100). We will look at these as well.