Kole Cottam was the most-improved Red Sox prospect in 2021
The Boston Red Sox had a great 2021 in terms of prospects. Triston Casas is a star, Ronaldo Hernandez was phenomenal, Brayan Bello emerged as an ace, Jay Groome dominated, Ceddanne Rafaela won my heart, and so many more. But it’s Kole Cottam that takes home my trophy for “most-improved” prospect in 2021.
The term “most-improved” can be viewed in both a positive and negative light. Obviously it is positive because it shows that a player got better over the year. However, you could argue there is a negative connotation to it. You could say that it’s seen as saying the player was bad before the season.
With that in mind, there are a few things that need to be cleared up here. First of all, I’m never going to use “most-improved” as any kind of backhanded compliment. Even Mike Trout has weaknesses in his game that he can improve upon, and become a better player.
Second, there were a lot of players that deserved this distinction. Cottam just seemed to make the biggest leaps forward in my opinion. But you can’t discredit the improvements of others. Look at Durbin Feltman, Brayan Bello, Joan Martinez, Jaxx Groshans, Elih Marrero, Stephen Scott, and countless others.
So what did Cottam do for me to consider him the most-improved prospect in the Red Sox system? Well let’s take a look at his season.
The right-handed hitter slashed .278/.371/.500 in 71 games (234 at-bats) between High-A and Double-A. That entire slash line marked new career-highs in all three of those categories. Cottam mashed 18 doubles to go along with new career-bests in triples (2) and home runs (10). The run production was decent too, as he drove in 33 runs and scored 33 more.
Those might not be the most overwhelming numbers, but remember to look at the playing time. Cottam had the “misfortune” of being in a Boston system with a bunch of exciting catching prospects. This made it harder for him to get consistent reps. I’m guessing Cott won’t complain because he really seems to have the “team first” mentality. It also helps keep him fresh, which is nice.
However, it also gave him fewer chances to drive in runs and get big hits. For example, Cottam hit .300 with runners in scoring position and two outs. That’s awesome, but he only got 55 plate appearances (50 at-bats) all year in those scenarios. Obviously this limited the RBI numbers.
Cottam has proven that he has a great bat, but we already knew that. He has the ability to hit for contact, while also racking up the doubles and home runs.
This isn’t why he’s the most-improved though. No, what made 2021 so special for the catcher was the leaps he took on the defensive end.
Coming into the year, I would have told you Cottam was an average-at-best defender. He had a decent arm and the rest of his game was okay, but definitely needed a lot of improvements. It made Cottam sort of hard to place in my opinion. It felt like the defense might hold him back.
Apparently this wasn’t lost on the catcher though. It was something he clearly worked hard on in the offseason (and during the year as well if we’re being honest). Everything was markedly improved.
I’m not saying his defense is perfect now. There are still steps forward he can make everywhere. But that’s obvious, he’s a prospect.
However, that’s not a bad thing. Because Cottam has now proven that he’s willing to work hard. He can identify the weaknesses in his own game, takes criticism, and works to get better.
Cottam still has a solid arm. You can now say that he’s good at blocking the plate though and keeping pitches from getting past him. His pitch framing also improved dramatically. What impressed me the most was the game-calling though. He looked comfortable and confident behind the plate calling the games. And it translated to the pitchers. They seemed confident in him and worked well with him – and they would pitch good games in return.
These improvements aren’t seen in the stat sheets all that much. But they are obvious if you watch him play. It’s something that could help him make leaps forward in terms of how he is viewed.
Clearly, the Red Sox already see Cottam as a talented offensive player. Now he’s working to show them that he’s just as valuable defensively behind the plate. In the words of Julius Campbell in REMEMBER THE TITANS … “attitude reflects leadership, captain.”
Cottam has the perfect attitude for the game and it’s going to help him continue to improve. That attitude reminds me of a certain Boston Red Sox “captain”, catcher Jason Varitek. Was that a stretch to fit attitude and captain into the same sentence just to make it work with the quote? Absolutely.
This is my article though, and as Coach Herman Boone says in the same movie “this is no democracy, this is a dictatorship. I am the law.” I am the law here. I write the article, I get to make the rules. And Cottam does have a lot of Varitek’s best qualities. Watch out for him in 2021, he could be making a lot of headlines.