Yesterday, the Washington Nationals signed left-handed reliever Neal Cotts to a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training
As it gets closer to spring, the names of the players the Washington Nationals will invite to spring training as non-roster invitees will continue to come out. Yesterday, Jon Heyman of Fanrag Sports and Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post reported that the Nats are inviting left-handed reliever Neal Cotts to spring training in West Palm Beach:
Last season, Cotts pitched in three different organizations at the triple-A level (Angels, Yankees, and Rangers). In 41 combined games, the 36-year-old had a 3.83 ERA, struck out 36 batters, and walked 14 in 44.2 innings. He had 7.6 strikeouts per nine innings, which was lower than his 2015 total with the Brewers and Twins (8.2).
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While Cotts’ ERA may be high for a reliever, he ended the 2016 on a great note in Texas’ organization (Round Rock). Over his final 13 games, he went 1-0 with a 1.84 ERA and had 13 strikeouts in 14.2 innings. However, the eight walks might be a little high for that sample size.
Back in 2001, the Oakland A’s drafted Cotts in the second round. He would never pitch in a Major League game for Oakland. In December 2002, he was traded to the White Sox along with reliever Billy Koch for three players, including reliever Keith Foulke. Cotts would make his Major League debut in 2003.
Two years later, when the White Sox ended up winning the World Series, Cotts had a strong postseason as he didn’t give up a run in six appearances. While he had a good season in 2005 (4-0, 1.94 ERA in 69 games), it was not the best season of his career.
Cotts had his best season with the Texas Rangers three years ago. His pitching coach back then was Mike Maddux, who is now the pitching coach of the Washington Nationals. He had a 1.11 ERA, struck out 10.3 batters per nine innings, and made 53 appearances. One year later, he appeared in 74 games, which was the eighth most in the American League.
When Cotts was with the Brewers and Twins in 2015, his average velocity was at 89.9 miles per hour (according to Fangraphs). Although he doesn’t have the velocity, he does also have a cutter and slider in his pitch arsenal. As for the success of his cutter, hitters had a .195 batting average against that pitch (courtesy of Brooks Baseball).
The Washington Nationals already have two left-handers in Sammy Solis and Oliver Perez that will be in the bullpen on Opening Day. With that being said, the Nats could use a left-handed reliever at triple-A to go with Matt Grace in case Solis or Perez gets injured.
While the full list of Washington Nationals non-roster invitees hasn’t been released yet, I think Cotts is the most intriguing name of the ones that are known so far because of the success he has had in his career and the ability to get left-handed hitters out, even as he heads into his age 37 season.