Kotchman enjoying early season luck
First baseman looking to put nightmarish '07 behind him
MINNEAPOLIS -- Casey Kotchman has come out of the gate swinging -- and making good things happen.
A Gold Glove candidate with few peers defensively at first base, Kotchman had four singles and a homer in nine at-bats in the first two games, carrying a .556 average into Wednesday night's assignment against Twins rookie right-hander Nick Blackburn.
Kotchman has hit in good luck -- two squibbers turning into infield hits -- and has surprised himself with his power. His homer to right at the Metrodome on Tuesday night against another rookie right-hander, Brian Bass, amazed the Angels' modest first baseman.
"I thought I missed it," he said. "I thought I got it elevated too much, but the ball must have had some carry to it. I didn't see where it landed."
Having turned 25 in February, Kotchman -- who carries 215 pounds on a 6-foot-3 frame -- is growing into full physical maturity as a hitter. Maybe that's why the ball carried farther than he'd anticipated. He's naturally stronger.
"I'm not sure that would have happened in Anaheim, with the thick air at night," Kotchman said.
Whatever carried that ball out of the yard, he'll take it -- just as he'll accept the good fortune of a couple of dribblers that he beat out with speed that never will have him challenging good buddy Chone Figgins to a match race.
"Placement is the key there," Kotchman said, grinning. "That's probably all of the infield hits I'll get."
After what he went through last season, Kotchman deserves about seven months worth of good breaks.
He was among the American League's most productive hitters in all the important categories (average, slugging, on-base percentage) when he was struck in the helmet by a pickoff throw in mid-June by Dodgers catcher Russell Martin. A concussion, stitches in his head and a loss of equilibrium led to a loss of production when he returned.
Just when he was finally regaining his stride, Kotchman was hit by a Mariano Rivera cutter in late August, with a damaged hand setting him back again.
Finally, he was hospitalized with food poisoning when the American League Division Series ended in a sweep of his Angels by the Red Sox.
Kotchman finished his first relatively full season (137 games) with 11 homers and 68 RBIs, batting .296.
Manager Mike Scioscia sees his first baseman improving across the board if he can stay on the field.
"Kotch still has upside for the type of hitter he can be," Scioscia said. "A lot of people are drawn to home runs, but Casey has the ability to be an extremely productive hitter without hitting home runs. He has the potential to drive in 100 runs with 15 home runs; he's that kind of hitter."
Judging by the carry on Tuesday night's drive the Metrodome couldn't hold, 15 homers might be conservative.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.