Much anticipation arrived when Zack Cozart donned a Reds uniform for the first time on July 7, 2011. One reason was due to the Reds not having much recent offensive success from the shortstop position. A large hope was immediately placed on the 2007 second round draft pick.
Dividends were practically instantaneous as Cozart would post a .324 batting average in his first 11 games. Then. a bizarre and freak injury took him out for the remainder of the season. As Cozart was attempting to snag an off-target throw from first baseman Joey Votto, Cozart’s left arm was caught in the path of the incoming runner. His arm was contorted and twisted. Upon through examination, it was discovered Cozart would need Tommy John surgery. Weird that a non-pitcher would require the procedure.
Even coming off the procedure, the beginning of 2012 provided the same air of optimism surrounding Cozart. Most of that was once again centered around his bat. While his offense wasn’t up to those expectations, his defense was a pleasant surprise. I remarked in September that Cozart’s defense was going unnoticed. Well, in the end, Cozart was named as a finalist for the NL Gold Glove. Many thought, and not just Reds fans, that considering the “competition” among the other finalists that the Reds rookie should have won the honor. Instead, Jimmy Rollins would nab the prize leaving many to wonder.
Funny thing is that the Tommy John surgery didn’t get much play during this past season. With the struggles Cozart showed at the plate, it may have had an effect on Cozart’s offense. Or was he merely having issues adjusting to MLB pitchers? Or maybe it was that an unnecessary pressure was placed on Cozart being placed either in the lead-off spot or second for for all but 17 plate appearances during the 2012 season? Or maybe, and more likely, the sum of all of these.
During the five years in which Cozart toiled in the minors, his worst walk rate was 5.2%. He posted that rate in 2012. His highest strikeout rate was 17.9%. Last season, Cozart’s SO% was 18.8%. From Fangraphs, the Bill James projections show improvement in these two areas as well as in his offensive numbers across the board. Here’s a look at Cozart’s 2012 and the James 2013 projections…
This projected strikeout rate of 16.8% will actually be lower than Cozart’s minor league rate of 17.4%. While the projected walk rate is only 6.3%, it is still an improvement, and it’s not too far off what his BB% was in the minors (7.8%). That might have been even lower if not for Cozart having a BB% of 11.6% (63 BB in 541 PA) in 2009 when he played for Carolina.
If these projections can hold to form, Cozart will also have a triple slash a little more in line with his minor league numbers, too. We will hope the OBP is a little higher. If that proves to the case, Cozart can add more pop to a lineup that is viewed as possibly one of the NL bests heading into 2013. Improved offense along with Cozart’s excellent defense should make 2013 an eye-opener for the National League.
Along with that, it could squelch what debate possibly remains in light of the trade involving Didi Gregorius.