Cozart Looks to Improve upon Rookie Season

Cozart Returns As Reds Regular Shortstop

Zach Cozart was a gold glove finalist last season while manning shortstop for the Reds regularly. In 2013 he'll look to improve upon his performance at the plate with the pressure of leading off removed. Cozart is an aggressive hitter and though he doesn't walk much, he brings good power to the middle infield position.

Countdown to opening day: 15 days. Assuming things go as expected Zach Cozart will do something that hasn't been done since 2004: start a second consecutive opening day at shortstop in Cincinnati. The last player to do it was Barry Larkin and the great Reds shortstop has been out of baseball long enough to receive a Hall of Fame induction. For a team that has historically been stable at the position the last decade has been a revolving door.

He received a vote of confidence this offseason when management traded Didi Gregorius and took pressure off of him in two ways. Not only does he lose competition from the slick-fielding prospect for his job, his on-base percentage won't be scrutinized as closely after the deal returned Shin-soo Choo who will relieve him of leadoff duties. The second year man earned that trust and though he doesn't figure to have Gregorius's athleticism to make the highlight play he's more consistent with the leather, evidenced by his place among gold glove finalists last season.

Also, Gregorius has yet to prove he can hit at the major league level. Meanwhile Cozart had a season typical of many rookies. He started out hot, saw his average decline after opponents gained familiarity with him, and finished around .250. That average with a strong glove won't have a problem finding a MLB job at shortstop somewhere. Cozart added a bonus of 15 HR from the middle infield position.

He doesn't walk a lot and at this stage of his career doesn't figure to have a large AVG/OBP differential. However, he's in just his second full MLB season and there's reason to think that he could still make at least a modest improvement to his plate discipline and reduce his strikeout total below 100. Actually the 27 year-old was well on his way to winning the job in 2011 after going 12-37 in his debut, but a broken arm postponed his development. In the meantime Choo's acquisition has converted a sub-.300 OB hitter from the top of the lineup to a double digit home run threat in the bottom.

Thus far in spring training Cozart's averages are in line with what he did during last year's regular season. He's a little older than some second year men (27) because played at Ole Miss before the Reds used a second round selection to acquire him 07. Hopefully for the Reds his maturity will reduce the likelihood of a sophomore jinx. One thing that would help is to improve his batting average on the road which was about .050' less than home. However, his power was not necessarily a creation of Great American Ball Park because over half of his homers were hit elsewhere.

He actually was a very potent hitter batting second last season where he batted .324 and slugged almost .500 in 27 games. It appears that his aggressive approach at the plate with Joey Votto in the on-deck circle was a good combination. However leadoff deficiencies prompted manager Dusty Baker to move him to the top for most of his action and only three starts were in any of the lower spots. He'll have to get used to hitting lower more because veteran Brandon Phillips figures to bat behind Choo.

Whatever happens this season the Reds are going into it knowing they will sink or swim with Cozart at short. The next prospect behind Gregorius was Billy Hamilton and he's now being groomed in center field. Behind him now are trade-return Jason Donald who is coming off a .202 season at Cleveland, and non-roster invites Cesar Izturis and Emmanuel Burris. Cozart is their man in the middle of the infield for 2013……same as last year.

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