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AJM whiffs: Jason Botts

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Some of us were very excited about Jason Botts, and didn’t understand why the Rangers wouldn’t bring him up

Texas Rangers Photo Day Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

As I mentioned earlier this month, with no baseball going on, I thought it might be entertaining to go back and look at some of the Rangers opinions I’ve had over the years that I whiffed badly on. Last week, we talked about the Frank Catalanotto v. Michael Young debate.

Last week, I looked back at a deal that I loved for a player I coveted that didn’t work out...the Alfonso Soriano/Brad Wilkerson trade.

Today, I’m reminiscing about a prospect I was excited about, and that I was mad for about two straight years wasn’t getting a legitimate shot in the majors, who, as it turned out, wasn’t a major leaguer...Jason Botts.

Jason Botts, for those of you who don’t remember or weren’t around way back then, was a 46th round draft pick of the Texas Rangers in the 1999 draft out of Glendale Community College. He was signed as a draft-and-follow* in May, 2000, and after mashing as a 19 year old in the Gulf Coast Rookie League**, putting up a .319/.440/.503 slash line, he cracked the Baseball America top 30 prospect list for the Rangers prior to the 2001 season, coming in at #21, with BA calling him “the biggest sleeper in the organization.”

* Draft-and-follow was a mechanism by which a team would draft a player from high school or junior college, but not immediately sign him, instead “following” him as he played for a junior college team the next college season. Back then, a team didn’t lose their rights to a drafted player until he began classes at a four year school, so a player who went to junior college could still sign with the team that drafted him until just a week or so before the following year’s draft. Notable Rangers, aside from Botts, who were signed this way include Travis Hafner, Chris Davis and Derek Holland. Other former draft-and-follows of note signed by other teams include Jason Isringhausen, Roy Oswalt, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Mark Buehrle.

** Yes, this is so long ago, the Rangers hadn’t moved their spring training to Arizona yet.

Botts’ climb up the minor league ladder was slow but steady — he slashed .304/.415/.443 in 2001 playing mostly in low-A, spent 2002 at high-A slashing .254/.387/.401, split 2003 between high-A Stockton and AA Frisco, slashing .294/.384/.440, then had a big 2004 campaign for Frisco, slashing .293/.399/.507, and earning an AFL spot. He continued to appear on the Rangers’ top 30 list with BA, and was at #11 after the 2004 season.

Botts was a fascinating physical specimen — he was huge (listed at 6’5”, 250 lbs.), a switch hitter, and in his first spring training, he ran the fastest 60 yard dash in the Rangers’ system. He was quite limited defensively — when he wasn’t DHing in the minors, he was mostly playing first base or left field — with a huge K rate, but he had big-time power and drew a bunch of walks.

Jason Botts was also a fairly polarizing prospect among fans at the time. Let’s keep in mind the nature of the baseball landscape in 2005, when Jason Botts came to major league training camp on the 40 man roster for the first time. Michael Lewis’s “Moneyball” had just come out two years before, sabermetrics was still extremely controversial, and there were nasty, vicious fights taking place online between “old school” types and “new school” types. And among the “new school” sabermetrically inclined folks (which included me), Botts was a classic example of an underappreciated, overlooked player — he struck out a lot, didn’t hit for a great average, and didn’t play good defense anywhere, but his power and on base skills more than outweighed that.

So not only was Botts a prospect who was on the map, he was the type of prospect that us saber-nerds tended to get excited about. Reports indicated that when the Rangers poached Grady Fuson from the Oakland A’s, Billy Beane wanted Botts as compensation, and Beane’s stamp of approval was obviously significant back then. And with the Rangers having traded away Travis Hafner, a similar player with a similar skill set being on the cusp of the majors seemed to be the Baseball Gods taking pity on the Rangers, and giving us a do-over for giving away Hafner for a catcher who “plays with his hair on fair” but who had little other value.

In 2005, Botts mashed for Oklahoma in the PCL, slashing .286/.375/.522. He also got his first taste of MLB action, being brought up in September, and slashing .296/.367/.296 in 30 plate appearances.

2005 also saw a certain amount of consternation from myself and some other Rangers fans on the internet over Botts being ignored by the team. Phil Nevin was acquired at the end of July for Chan Ho Park, and immediately was slotted into the regular DH spot for the month of August. Why, we asked...why was Phil Nevin DHing instead of Jason Botts? The Rangers were 7.5 games back at the start of August and never got any closer in the playoff race. Okay, David Dellucci was playing left field and performing well, and Mark Teixeira wasn’t getting moved off of first base...but why not bring up Botts and let him DH and see what he could do, rather than wasting time with the 34 year old Nevin?

Botts was the 8th ranked prospect in the Rangers system after the 2005 season, though BA cautioned that, as Botts had no defensive position, he would likely return to AAA for 2006 to work on his defense and wait for an opportunity with the big club.

And that opportunity came on May 23, 2006, when Botts was promoted to the majors from Oklahoma, and Drew Meyer was sent down to the minors. It appears I had been harping on the issue for a while prior to his coming up:

I’ve hammered this point for a while, so I’m not going to re-hash why Botts being up and Phil Nevin being relegated to the bench is a good thing.

Nevin was still on the team, but he was dealt to the Chicago Cubs a week later for Jerry Hairston, Jr. The Cubs traded him to the Twins a couple of months after that, and Nevin didn’t play in the majors again.

So Jason Botts was in the majors for Texas, and had a chance to get significant playing time. And...it didn’t go well.

Botts didn’t play regularly. He started two games for Texas at DH, then sat for three games, started a game, sat, started another game, then came into the game in the 9th inning of a blowout loss the next day, which was May 31.

June went similarly. Botts started on June 2-3, then sat for three straight games. He started again, then sat for three straight games. He started a pair of games after that, sat for three straight games, started again, then sat for four straight games.

I was frustrated. I was angry. Buck Showalter was Showaltering Botts, not playing him regularly, not letting him get into a groove. From May 23 to June 22, his first month in the majors that season, Botts only had 47 plate appearances in 11 starts and a late game appearance, though he was slashing a respectable .237/.362/.421.

On June 23, however, the Rangers started a six game road trip in National League cities, which meant no DH. Botts didn’t start in any of those six games, though he pinch hit in each of them, going 2 for 6.

Then Botts sat on the bench for three more games, at home against the Astros, before being put in the lineup against Ted Lilly and the Toronto Blue Jays on July 3, his first start in almost two weeks. Botts went 0 for 3 with 3 Ks and a sac fly, sat for the next four games, then got another start, against the Twins, where he went 0 for 3 with a K.

Then Botts was sent down on July 11.

There was raging. There was anger. There were cries for Buck Showalter’s scalp. How dare he! How dare he refuse to play this promising young slugger, refuse to give him an opportunity to get comfortable and in a groove, and then get him sent down! LSB went full Angrydome.

Botts went back to AAA Oklahoma, played for a while, and then landed on the minor league injured list in early August with a broken hamate bone, which cost him the rest of the year, and meant no September promotion.

2007 rolled around, and the Rangers signed Sammy Sosa to be their DH.

I was mad. Jason Botts had no chance of making the team out of spring training, despite being 26 years old and having slashed .309/.398/.582 at AAA Oklahoma in 2006, before the hamate bone injury cut short his season. Buck was gone, but newly hired Ron Washington wouldn’t even get a chance to play Botts at DH because the Rangers had signed Sammy Sosa.

Sammy Sosa, who had put up a 671 OPS in 2005 for the Baltimore Orioles, then was out of baseball in 2006. That’s who the Rangers preferred to start the 2007 season with as their DH.

I don’t want to go back and read the rantings I was putting up all spring about that. I’m a calmer, more laid back blogger now than I was then. But I remember full well I was mad and blogged angry things about the decision.

And then the season started. In 2007, you may recall, the Rangers were terrible from the jump. They went into sell mode. They committed to a rebuild early in the year. They acknowledged they would have to build from within.

And yet, all summer, as Jason Botts continued to mash at AAA, slashing .320/.436/545 that season, Texas wouldn’t bring him up. They kept playing Sammy Sosa, who was chasing 600 home runs, who supposedly might bring back something at the trade deadline. They called up Nelson Cruz instead of Botts when Kenny Lofton was traded in late July, which infuriated me.

It wasn’t until August 1, 2007, that Botts was finally promoted, with the team committing to playing him every day.

Huzzah!!! Hallelujah!!! It was a great day. We celebrated. We cheered. We prepared ourselves for Botts to produce, and relished all the “told you sos” we were going to drop.

And Jason Botts was terrible.

Very terrible.

It was so, so depressing. What we had been waiting for, had been begging to see happen — Jason Botts playing every day in the majors — was finally occurring. And it was awful.

Botts slashed .207/.288/.304 in the month of August. Brutal.

Botts slashed .280/.372/.373 in the month of September. Better, but there was still no power showing, and that included a .400 BABIP.

Botts’ final major league line for 2007 was .240/.326/.335 in 190 plate appearances.

Jason Botts was out of options to start the 2008 season. So was Nelson Cruz, who I mentioned earlier. The Rangers could only keep one on the active roster, and so they went with Botts, and designated Cruz for assignment. I was happy about the decision. I was happier when, to my surprise, Cruz cleared waivers, since I expected him to be claimed.

Botts slashed .158/.304/.395 in 46 plate appearances in April, 2008, before being designated for assignment. He, like Cruz, cleared waivers. In June, he was was sold to the Nippon Ham Fighters, where he played in 2008 and 2009, and where his teammates included former Ranger pitcher Ryan Glynn, former (very briefly) Ranger Terrmel Sledge, and future Ranger Yu Darvish.

Botts returned to the United States for the 2010 season, and from 2010-13, played in the minor leagues for the Mets and the Nationals, played for Camden and Sugar Land in the Atlantic League, played in the Mexican League, and then, in 2014, in his final pro season, played for Grand Prairie in the Indy American Association.

After all the sound and fury I generated, after all the words I typed, after all the anger and frustration and flipping out I experienced, the doubters ended up being right all along.

So what did I miss?

I disregarded the scouting reports, particularly the concerns about Botts’ swing.

Here’s excerpts from BA’s writeups of Botts, listed with the year just completed.

2002 — His raw power and selectivity at the plate should generate a lot of home runs, but he has yet to crack double digits as a pro, thanks in part to some serious holes in his swing.

2003 — There’s length and often too much strength to his swing, creating problems getting the bat head to the ball on a direct path, especially with inside pitches. He won’t tap into his big-time raw power until he makes adjustments.

2004 — Particularly powerful as a righthanded hitter, Botts has shortened up his swing. At 6-foot-6 with long arms, he still has holes, however.

2005 — To play every day in the majors, he’ll have to hit a lot of homers, but some scouts question how usable his raw power is. He runs into some pitches, but his swing is long and lacks a suitable load, so he has trouble catching up with good fastballs, especially on the inner half.

2006 — There’s still some question about his long swing and how well it will work against quality pitching in the big leagues.

And it wasn’t as if BA was the only one talking about this — every scouting report you would see back then talked about Botts having a long swing. It was what had scouts leery of him, and had the Rangers reluctant to give him a major league job — the belief that his swing wouldn’t work in the majors, particularly against major league velocity.

I dismissed those concerns at the time, at least in part, I’m sure, because it was in the middle of the “scouts versus stats” battles, and I was firmly in the “stats” camp. Bill James wrote in the Baseball Abstracts that minor league numbers were meaningful and relevant, and that was still gospel in the early to mid-aughts. Botts put up big time numbers in the minors, and those numbers would translate to the majors. Anyone who was getting hung up on his swing or the strikeouts or focusing on the negatives was an fossil who was clinging to an archaic worldview and who needed to get with the times.

I think I was also emotionally invested in Botts because of the type of player he was. He was a saber-star, a guy who walked a ton and hit for power just as those skills were starting to be recognized by the wider baseball world as being valuable. If you liked a slappy, never-walking, speedy guy who hit .300 and stole 50 bases but only drew 20 walks a year and got thrown out stealing 25 times, you were not keeping up with the trends. Guys who might not play defense well and who struck out a lot but who mashed homers and drew walks were the rock stars among the sabermetric types, and Botts fit the bill perfectly.

There was also the loss of Hafner, who was a similar player — no defensive ability, lots of walks, lots of Ks, lots of home runs — who was given away by Texas and then turned into a star. I was a Hafner fan when he was with Texas, railed about the fact the Rangers didn’t call him up earlier in 2002 and play him every day, and hated the trade that sent him to Cleveland. I saw, in Botts, another Hafner, and didn’t want the same thing to happen.

I was also told by those who paid attention to the scouts that Botts wasn’t Hafner — Hafner had a shorter swing with fewer holes and wasn’t vulnerable to being exploited at the big league level like Botts was — but I dismissed those comments. Who cared what the scouts said about the swings when you could look at the minor league numbers?

At around the same time there were several other players with similar skill sets who us sabermetric types rallied around and proclaimed would be stars, if only a team would be smart enough to give them playing time. Jack Cust was Botts on (metaphorical) steroids, a guy who had questions about his swing but who put up video game numbers in the minors. Erubiel Durazo was on the bench in Arizona for so long there was a “Free Erubiel Durazo!!!” meme about him. Hee Seop Choi was overlooked and underappreciated, and would mash in the majors if given a chance.

It was a unique time. Now, with the stats v. scouts war over, and the recognition by even the hardest of hard-core stat types that you can’t just look at minor league numbers and assume they’ll translate, the recognition that you have to take into account the actual scouting reports and what the guys who watch these players see, we wouldn’t have the same sort of conflict and drama.

And I, being older, calmer, and much more willing now to acknowledge that I don’t know nearly as much as I thought I did fifteen years ago, wouldn’t give myself an aneurysm over it.

I was a different blogger back then. I had much stronger opinions, was much more likely to attack and criticize, was much more sure that I was right. I get embarrassed sometimes when I go back and find myself making definitive proclamations about things that I now realize were not nearly so black and white.

2020 AJM would have hedged much more, would have been much more cautious, and would have given more deference and benefit of the doubt to those who doubted Jason Botts.

But I think I still would have been a Jason Botts believer. I still would have been wrong. I just wouldn’t have been so loudly, brashly, obnoxiously wrong.