PROVO — Ask Provo Angels manager Tom Kotchman to project which of his current players will be suiting up for a major league club one day and he'll look at you like you asked him to forecast the weather in Utah County for the next five years.

"You just don't know," Kotchman says. "It's too early to tell."

In the Provo Angels' four-year history, one player — Tom's son, first baseman Casey Kotchman — has reached the majors. Casey Kotchman spent a month earlier this season in Anaheim before being sent to Triple-A Salt Lake, where he currently plays.

Tom Kotchman points out that a player's chances of reaching the major leagues largely depend on the organization he's in. That's good news for rookie league prospects in Provo, because the parent club, the Anaheim Angels, boasts a strong reputation for developing its own talent.

"These guys are lucky to be in this organization because since 1990, it has been No. 1 or No. 2 in developing its own players," Kotchman says. "I think the Twins are the other team. (The Anaheim Angels) are not big on going out and getting a lot free agents. That's the good thing, an organization that's going to develop and promote from within. And that's what these guys are in."

Don't be surprised to see a steady stream of former Provo Angels filling out big league uniforms in the next few years.

During the recent major league baseball trade deadline, the names of a couple of Angel alumni became increasingly prominent.

The Anaheim Angels were reportedly in discussions with the Arizona Diamondbacks to acquire Hall-of-Fame-bound flamethrower Randy Johnson to solidify their pitching rotation as they vie for a playoff spot. In exchange for Johnson, the Angels apparently discussed trading two young prospects — third baseman Dallas McPherson and catcher Jeff Mathis. In 2001, the Angels' first season in Provo, McPherson and Mathis helped the Angels post the best single-season record in Pioneer League history. McPherson is currently with the Salt Lake Stingers while Mathis plays for Double-A Arkansas.

"Mathis has a chance to be an everyday catcher for a long time," Kotchman says, "and McPherson has a chance to put up some serious power numbers."

There are other potential stars on the horizon who got their start in Provo, like pitchers Jake Woods (Salt Lake) and Steven Snell (Rancho Cucamonga) and infielders Alberto Callaspo (Arkansas) and Erick Aybar (Rancho Cucamonga).

"If there was a minor league ESPN right now, if there was an ESPN3, they would be on ESPN3," Kotchman says of Callaspo and Aybar.

While players like Casey Kotchman, McPherson and Mathis were high draft picks and were expected to shine, there are always surprises. Success on one level doesn't necessarily translate to success on the next.

"It's not what they do at this (rookie league) level. It is, but it's not. It's a stepping stone," Kotchman says. "It's a lot of projection of what they can do at the next level. Some of them might be in different positions as they move up. An infielder might turn into an outfielder. A lot of times starters become relievers and they have to adapt to that. Sometimes relievers become starters."

Pitcher Von Stertzbach, who pitched in Provo last season and had an ERA of about six, is now a reliever with the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes and leads the Anaheim Angels organization in saves with more than 20.

"You wouldn't foresee that," Kotchman says. "His velocity was down 1-4 miles an hour here in Provo and now it's back and he's doing a really good job. That's just the way it is. If you would have said last year that he'd be leading the organization in saves, somebody would be telling you to get a drug test."

Second baseman Howard Kendrick started the 2003 season with Provo in poor fashion — a 4-for-40 slump.

"I thought he was my best hitter so that's why I put him in the third spot (in the batting order)," Kotchman says. "Then I put him ninth to take the pressure off of him. By the time the season was over, he was hitting .370 and hit .415 in July and .420 August. And yet he started 4-for-40. You see guys do that in this league. It has to do with adjustments with the bat. A lot of guys put up mediocre numbers here and the next year they (excel). That's why you can't put a whole lot of stock into their first year, good or bad."

This season, Kendrick is hitting .355 with the Single-A Cedar Rapids Kernals.

Kotchman's job is to prepare youngsters in the Anaheim Angels organization for the rest of their professional baseball careers, however long that may be.

They're all expecting to go to the big leagues in their minds," he says. "Reality is, probably anywhere from a low of 10 percent to 25 to 30 percent, depending on the team."

When Kotchman was managing Anaheim's rookie league team when it was based in Boise in the early 1990s, he saw a number of his players matriculate to the majors, including Troy Percival, Garret Anderson, Mark Sweeney, Orlando Palmeiro and Eduardo Perez.

"We had 10 guys make it (to the big leagues) off the 25-man roster," Kotchman says.

His son, Casey, by the way, served as that team's batboy. Apparently, Casey learned the lessons that Tom is trying to instill in his current crop of Angel prospects.

"That's why this level is so important, is teaching them how to win, how to play and how to act," Kotchman says. "Hopefully that helps them in some small way when they get to the next level."


E-mail: jeffc@desnews.com