Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Orem Owlz are consistently in the playoffs led by manager and scout, Tom Kotchman

By David Saltzer - Angelswin.com Columnist

In continuing with our ongoing series looking at the start of each minor league affiliate’s team, we are now going to focus on one of our short-season affiliates. Considered to the be the more advanced of the two short-season clubs, the Orem Owlz finished last year with a regular season record of 52-23, leading the Pioneer League in most offensive and defensive stats. They captured the Divisional Championship before losing to the Great Falls Voyagers (White Sox) in the League Championship.

Question #1: How is the Kotchman Family Doing?

At the end of the season last year, Tom Kotchman—the long-time Orem Owlz manager—underwent a tremendous scare. Tom’s wife and high school sweetheart Susan was diagnosed with a life-threatening brain illness and underwent emergency brain surgery. The odds of her surviving just the surgery were slim. However, with her whole family by her side (including Casey her son and our former 1B), Susan pulled through and beat the odds.

After the surgery, though, the prognosis was not good. Odds were that there would be some mild to severe complications as a result of the injury and surgery. Again, though, Susan seems to be beating the odds. According to published reports, she is only experiencing moderate complications and on the mend. So, with a heavy heart, Tom Kotchman is beginning his 19th season managing our short season club.

Angels fans and baseball fans everywhere continue to offer their thoughts and prayers to the Kotchman family and hope that Susan continues to do well after such a major illness and that the Kotchman family continues to enjoy good health and prosperity both on and off the field.

Question #2: Will the Owlz Return to the Post Season?

For Angels fans, one of the best kept secrets is in Orem: Tom Kotchman. He’s the manager of the Orem Owlz, and a tremendously talented manager. He finds the way to bring out the best in his players, and their best usually leads to the post season.

Tom has been with the Angels since 1984 and has managed the Angels’ short season club since 1990. He has compiled a record of 1533 wins vs. 1302 losses (542 win percentage) and has seven league titles to boot. There’s no doubt that Tom could manage in the majors if he wanted to. But, he has been all about his family and enjoys working with the young rookies.

As mentioned above, Tom Kotchman gets the best out of his clubs. This year should be no exception. There are several notable players already on the roster such as: Orangel Arenas, Terrell Alliman, Justin Bass, Patrick Borbin, Buddy Boshers, Francis Cabrera, Marcel Champagnie, Patrick Corbin, Dan Eichelberger, Tyler Kehrer, Stephen Locke, Tyler Mann, Trevor Pippen, and Jean Segura. More are likely to come as we sign our 2009 draftees and/or promote some from the AZL Angels (lower level short season Single-A affiliate). And, we even have a Mike Piazza on the roster that as Angels fans we can finally root for!

Question #3: What is the Offense Like?

Last year, the Owlz saw some explosive power in Angel Castillo (14 HRs), Gabriel Jacobo (7 HRs), Luis Jimenez (15 HRs), and Roberto Lopez (14 HRs). Going into this year, the offense does not look to be as powerful as the Angels still lack power at multiple levels in the organization. This year’s team appears to be more contact and and speed than slugging.

But, that could be a false indication. Most of these players are just now adjusting to wood bats. Most are young and still filling out. And, more players could get promoted from the AZL Angels, such as Grichuk, to add to the power potential.

I am sure that this offense will produce. Just like last year, there will be some surprises that will bust out for the team. Kotchman will move people around in the lineup and in and out of the lineup until he can get an offense that gels. So far, it looks like when Segura plays, he will lead off. And Champagnie, Baird, Alliman and Wing will fill out the heart of the order.

Update: After their first 4 games, the Owlz have scored 18 runs, which ties them for 5th in the league in terms of offense. As a team they’ve posted a 210/317/282 line.

Question #4: What is the Pitching Like?

Last year the Owlz saw some great starting pitching in Buddy Boshers, Manuarys Correa, Tim Kiely, Jayson Miller, and Will Smith. They also saw some great relief work from Michael Kohn, Chris School and Andrew Taylor.

This year, the pitching should be as good, if not better. Buddy Boshers returns as a starter, although he may get a late season promotion. Several of our recent 2009 draft picks who have signed are pitching for Orem including: Tyler Kehrer, a left-handed starter (1st round supplemental); David Carpenter, a right-handed pitcher (9th round); Stephen Locke a left-handed starter (22nd round); Taylor Kinzer, a right-handed reliever (24th round); and Carson Andrew, a right-handed reliever (28th round). Other notable pitchers include Orangel Arenas, Francis Cabrera, and Yeison Almeida signed out of our Dominican Academy.

As with the hitters, as more of our 2009 draftees sign, there could be some changes to the pitching. And, as players get promoted out of the AZL Angels, they too could improve this club. So, things could change with the pitching, but for now it looks strong.

Update: After their first 4 games, the Owlz are 3-1 with 2.25 ERA which is 2nd in the Pioneer League. They’ve struck out 35 in 36 IP while only walking 10, which is 2nd in the Pioneer League in both categories.

Question #5: What about Odd Man Out?

During the spring this year, a former Angels minor league pitcher Matt McCarthy wrote a book about his stint in Orem. Naturally, some current and former Angels major leaguers figured prominently in the book, and Tom Kotchman appeared in quite a few stories. Some of the stories weren’t all that flattering and some portrayed aspects of the team that seemed rather divisive. One would think that this book, portrayed as the next “Bull Durham” of the minor leagues or Ball 4 would have an impact on the team and on the people portrayed in it.

After the release, many factual errors were found in the book. While some dismissed the factual errors as being irrelevant to the central themes and stories in the book, others completely dismissed the book because of them.

The reality is, the book contains the types of stories and situations one would expect to find from a bunch of young jocks. If you’ve seen “Animal House”, “Old School” or “The Hangover”, then you know what a bunch of guys can do. Since its initial release, the book hasn’t received much publicity or comments from anyone involved in it. It presently ranks 19,113 in books on Amazon, and doesn’t appear to be making serious headway.

Ultimately, most fans realize that young players are going to get into hijinks. It would be more shocking if they didn’t. Great managers will employ a variety of strategies to get the most out of their players. Again, it would be more shocking if they didn’t. And, at any point, some individuals may see things differently and may react to things differently than everyone else—especially players who see themselves and describe themselves as minor league misfits. So, it’s doubtful that Odd Man Out will have any major or lasting impact on the team or people involved.
Love to hear what you think!


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