His name won’t be found in the Baseball America Prospect Handbook, and it’s not on any list of up-and-coming ballplayers to watch. But no promising youngster generated more buzz this week at baseball’s Winter Meetings than Chris Cotillo.
A ballplayer? No, unless you count his admittedly limited contributions to his Senior Base Ruth League team in Northborough. Cotillo, an 18-year-old senior at Algonquin Regional, is finding his niche in the game another way.
As a remarkable self-starter who currently writes for SB Nation’s MLB Daily Dish, he’s making a habit of breaking major baseball news, the kind that usually comes from national writers with years of experience and a couple of iPhones’ worth of contacts.
When pitcher Ricky Nolasco signed a $49 million deal with the Twins Nov. 27, it wasn’t a prominent insider such as Ken Rosenthal, Jon Heyman, or Jerry Crasnick who had the story first. It was Cotillo. And that would not be his only or biggest scoop of the Hot Stone season. Just a couple of days later, on Dec. 2, Cotillo was first to report a deal that no one saw coming: the Tigers’ swap of pitcher Doug Fister to the Nationals for three modest players.
Two questions came immediately to mind: Why would the Tigers trade Fister for such an uninspiring package?
And who the heck is this kid who got it first?
“It’s been crazy,’’ said Cotillo, who has gained nearly 10,000 followers on Twitter since the Nolasco news. “[The attention grew] with the Nolasco story to an extent, but the Fister thing put it leagues ahead of that one. It was massive after that.”
If he had any doubts about whether he was making a name for himself, they’re long gone now. Cotillo couldn’t pass up the opportunity to attend the Winter Meetings and build his connections further this week in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. His parents, David and Jeannie, built a family vacation around the trip, which turned out to be a fruitful and fulfilling experience for their son.
“School is always the priority and always will be,” he said, “but at the same time, I have to know that being able to do things like cover the World Series, which required me to go in late some days, or being here for this week, there are just some things I can’t pass up, because this is what I want to do for a career.”
Cotillo puts in the hours. Upon arriving at the Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort Saturday, he checked the lobby, realized no baseball personnel had arrived yet, and went to the Magic Kingdom for the night with his family. But Sunday through Wednesday, he worked the lobby from roughly 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. every day.
“I have this theory that I’m not producing anything or not getting closer to my goals academically or professionally if I’m asleep,’’ said Cotillo, who said most of his teachers understand if they see him pecking away on his phone in class. “I try to stay up as long as I can until I’m physically exhausted.”
With honest scoops come respect. Rosenthal, [Peter] Gammons, and Rob Neyer were among those to praise him on Twitter. Heyman wrote a college recommendation letter for him.
“The recognition from not just other reporters means a lot because it’s the guys I’ve looked up to for as long as I can remember. Guys like Gammons and Heyman and Rosenthal know me well now and pull me aside for conversation, which is awesome,’’ said Cotillo, who handled himself with poise beyond his years during an appearance on the MLB Network.
“But to have non-reporting people within the game say things, like Ben Cherington came up to me and said, ‘I really noticed your work, you’re doing a great job,’ which is really interesting. And Rosenthal told me Rick Hahn and Kenny Williams [of the White Sox] were talking about me to him at the bar the other night and asking if I was legit and that they were impressed, too. So that’s just really cool.”
So, how did he do it? How did he develop legitimate contacts in the baseball world while juggling a high school curriculum and preparing his college applications?
It began with social media. As a sophomore, he started an anonymous Twitter account that aggregated baseball news, similar to the popular website MLB Trade Rumors.
“People [in baseball] were following that because they thought it would be a useful tool, and because they were following that I was able to direct message them and ask to talk to them privately and communicate in different ways,” Cotillo said. “Once in a while, I’d get a response and get some information on minor league signings.
“But after a while, it just got to the point where it was me robotically repeating what everyone else was saying. Usually it’s these three or four guys who usually are breaking the news. And they had to start somewhere. And had to start with zero contacts. And they had to build that up. So, I figured it might be worthwhile to start trying to do that. And even if I get some minor stuff, which I really began getting about a year ago, it’s better than what I was getting.”
Now Cotillo is getting scoops, accolades from his peers in an often-cynical profession, and even a few job offers.
The rest of his senior year awaits. So does the college decision. He’ll surely break the news on that, as well.
NESN has hired Elle Duncan as an anchor, host, and reporter. She will debut in February. Duncan comes to NESN from Atlanta, where she serves as the Phillips Arena in-house reporter for Hawks games. Duncan is also a sports reporter and morning show personality at Atlanta’s NBC affiliate, WXIA.Chad Finn can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeChadFinn.