Neal James Cotts
- Bats Left, Throws Left
- Height 6' 2", Weight 200 lb.
- School Illinois State University
- High School Lebanon (IL) High School
- Debut August 12, 2003
- Final Game October 3, 2015
- Born March 25, 1980 in Belleville, IL USA
Pitcher Neal Cotts was selected by the Oakland Athletics in the second round of the 2001 amateur draft after an 8-3 senior season in college, with a 2.89 ERA. He had led the Missouri Valley Conference with 113 strikeouts, in 87 innings and named to the All-Conference team. Cotts began his professional career with the Vancouver Canadians, going 1-0 with a 3.09 ERA, fanning 44 in 35 innings. Promoted to the Visalia Oaks, he went 3-2 with a 2.32 ERA and 34 K in 31 IP.
In 2002, Neal pitched for the Modesto A's and went 12-6 with a 4.12 ERA. He led the team in wins and struck out 178 in 138 innings, though he walked 87. That off-season, he was traded to the Chicago White Sox as a player to be named later in the Keith Foulke-Billy Koch deal. He went 9-7 with a 2.12 ERA for the Birmingham Barons in 2003 before being promoted to the majors in August and making four starts for the Sox. He whiffed 133 and walked 56 in 108 innings, allowing 67 hits and a .177 opponent batting average. He made the Southern League All-Star team as the top southpaw pitcher.
In 2004, Neal was converted to the bullpen and after a rocky 87 ERA+ debut, but he had a dazzling 4-0 record and 229 ERA+ in 2005, allowing 38 hits and striking out 58 in 60 1/3 innings. Cotts pitched two thirds of an inning in Game 1 of the 2005 ALCS against the Los Angeles Angels. He was the only member of the Sox bullpen to pitch in the series. He was traded to the Chicago Cubs on November 16, 2006 for David Aardsma and minor leaguer Carlos Vasquez after falling to a 5.17 ERA in 2006; he did record his only career save that season.
Cotts pitched three seasons for the Cubs, from 2007 to 2009. He also spent time with the AAA Iowa Cubs each year. Used exclusively in middle relief, he was 0-1, 4.86 in 16 games the first year, then 0-2, 4.29 in 50 games in 2008. He was again winless in 2009, with a record of 0-2 and a 7.36 ERA that got him sent down to Iowa for good at the end of May. He had a good K/W rate in 2008, with 43 strikeouts and only 13 walks in 35 2/3 innings, but in 2009 gave up 9 walks and 14 hits in only 11 innings before his demotion. He has signed with various teams since 2009, most recently with the Texas Rangers in February of 2012, but did not pitch in organized baseball in either 2010 or 2011.
He finally returned to the big leagues with the Rangers in 2013, after posting the best strikeout rate in the minor leagues early in the season: he struck out 42 batters in 23 innings for the Round Rock Express, or 16.4 per 9 innings, while going 3-1 with a 0.78 ERA in 15 games. He made his return to the Show on May 23rd, pitching a scoreless inning against the Oakland Athletics. On June 5th, he picked up his first big league win in seven years with a strategically-timed third of an inning in relief of Alexi Ogando in a game against the Boston Red Sox. Ogando left with two outs in the 6th, having just given up a game-tying homer to Dustin Pedroia; Cotts walked the first two men he faced, but struck out Jarrod Saltalamacchia to end the inning, and the Rangers then scored a couple of runs. Cotts came out to start the 7th, but walked yet another batter, Stephen Drew, and gave way to Robbie Ross, but he had done enough to get credit for the win. The bout of wildness was uncharacteristic, as after 10 innings, he had issued only 5 walks against 12 K's. He did not have to wait nearly as long to claim his next win, as it came on June 9th, when he retired all three Toronto Blue Jays batters he faced after coming again in a tie situation.
Sources: 2002-2004 Baseball Almanacs