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Building a Champion: Neal Cotts

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Part of a Series

I've only profiled 7 of the 25 players on the post-season roster, and I've already reached 2003. 18 of the players who brought the Sox their first World Series championship have been with them for 3 years or less, and 17 of them have been with the club for 2 years or less. That's a pretty swift turnover.

Neal Cotts came to the White Sox almost as an afterthought (the proverbial player to be named later) in the Keith Foulke for Billy Koch deal. At the time, it seemed hard to imagine that it would be Cotts who was the most effective reliever of the bunch just 3 years later. Yet here were are; Koch is out of baseball, Foulke was ineffective battling knee injuries, all while Cotts was posting a sub-2 ERA and one of the best BAAs in baseball.

Cotts was drafted in the second round by Oakland out of Illinois State University. Belleville's Rose was very good across two different Low-A leagues in his first season, but was slightly less impressive in his second season as a pro at High-A. Cotts had an outstanding K/9 ratio, but walked way too many batters to be considered a top prospect. He also didn't have great "stuff." It's hard to be impressed by his mediocre-at-best control and 91 MPH straight as an arrow fastball.

Cotts was promoted to AA in the Sox organization, and thrived, posting a 2.18 ERA with a little help from the large outfield in Birmingham. His performance, and the White Sox need for a 5th starter, prompted a swift promotion to the big leagues. He failed, rather infamously, in his brief time with the Sox in '03.

The '04 campaign was more of the same for Cotts. He relied too much on his off-speed stuff and not enough on his dominating fastball. He went on to give up 13 HRs in just 65IP while pitching almost exclusively in relief. The long balls were a new problem for Cotts. He had allowed just 9 HRs in over 300 innings pitched at the minor league level.

'05 was a breakout year for Neal. I have to admit that, even though I had been one of Neal's staunchest defenders, I never saw him being as dominating as he was in '05. He posted very similar peripherals to his '04 season, yet his H/9 ratio was down a ton, and he gave up only 1 meaningless HR to Jason Dubois on the entire year -- He was able to accomplish this by throwing his fastball almost exclusively. I've never seen a more dominating 92MPH fastball in my life. You can tell a hitter it's coming, and for some reason (Hawk speculates it's a hitch in his delivery) they just can't catch up to it.

Cotts still has a year before he reaches arbitration. It would be in the best interest of the Sox to get another year out of Cotts at the major league level before they decide what type of deal they want to give him.