PORT CHARLOTTE — There's little in Casey Kotchman's performance over the past 21/2 seasons to suggest he could resurface as a productive big-league hitter.
But looking back before that — and looking at the adjustments he has made to get back to that style of hitting — the Rays feel there is good reason to think he could re-emerge as a big success.
"It's not really changing anything," Rays hitting coach Derek Shelton said. "It's adjusting him back to what made him successful."
The work, which started when Kotchman, the former Seminole High star, signed in late January, is being done on two levels: adjusting his stance and swing starting with widening his base; and altering his approach to take more of what's given (including walks) and make use of the whole field with line drives.
"The stuff they've been able to pinpoint, it's still there," Kotchman said. "It didn't leave. I just left it."
In 2007 and the first half of 2008 with the Angels, Kotchman, at 24-25, showed tremendous promise with a productive though not overly powerful bat (.292, 23 homers, 122 RBIs, .810 OPS) to complement his golden touch in the field.
"He was incredibly underrated in 2007; he had a phenomenal season, and it was a lot more below the surface than just the value he added defensively, things like the quality of his at-bats," Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman said. "The first half of '08 was really good, and he's scuffled a little bit since then."
Since being traded to the Braves in the July 2008 Mark Teixeira deal, Kotchman has not been the same — hitting .241 with 18 homers, 119 RBIs and a .663 OPS in 294 games — while being traded twice more, to the Red Sox then the Mariners (where he hit a brutal .217 last season with a .616 OPS), then having to take a minor-league deal with the hometown Rays for $750,000, a fraction of his previous $3.52 million salary.
Kotchman said he didn't plan to change, and he wasn't aware how much he had gotten away from what worked. Side by side videos present an interesting picture — blatantly obvious differences that require only minimal adjustments. The man who knows Casey's swing better than anyone, his father Tom, the longtime Angels scout and minor-league manager, said it's just as clear to him: "As for what's different, not really a whole lot."
Kotchman, now 28, has been an eager and open student, joining Shelton in the video room around 7 each morning then heading to the cage. "He wants to put himself in position to be the guy he was again," Shelton said.
Rays manager Joe Maddon suggests Kotchman could actually be more, saying he not only is "very, very similar" defensively to now former Ray Carlos Peña but could be positioned to similarly resurrect his career. (And if he doesn't make the team out of spring training could start the season at Triple-A Durham.)
"We've seen a lot of guys here in this organization really make that transformation right around 27 or 28 years of age," Maddon said. "I think it's the optimal moment, especially for the guys that are the second- or third-time around guys from different organizations that everybody has always liked and they've just never really gotten over the hump. I think that's just the perfect moment, and I think this is a great spot for him to fulfill all of his potentials."
Kotchman knows where it starts.
Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.