CARDINALS HELD ONTO SS PETE KOZMA. WHY?

Utility infielder 26 year old Pete Kozma, shortstop, second base and possible emergency back-up catcher.

As utility players come and go in the majors, the St. Louis Cardinals deemed shortstop Pete Kozma worthy to keep on the payroll for the 2015 season. Many Cardinals’ fans are scratching their heads as to the “why”.

The organization’s reasoning could stem from yet another controlled salary at $518,000 since he won’t be arbitrary eligible until 2017. He can cover shortstop and second base as back-up. Kozma has been in the bigs since 2011 making his debut on May 18. Being drafted right out of high school in 2007, he has been associated with the club for quite some time.

In 2012, Kozma only logged 26 games, but secured a close look by the organization for the following season with a .333 BA/.952 OPS/2 HR/14 RBI/5-2B/3-3B and his fielding was without error. In postseason, he was essential against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the NLDS with a .400 BA/.955 OPS.

I believe this is why he got the nod as a regular in the line-up in 2013. However, with 143 games logged, Kozma only had 89 hits/1 HR/35 RBI/20-2B/44 runs with an ailing batting average of .217 and a tad above .500 OPS due to his 91 strike-outs. Fielding, he had nine errors called against him, but did turn 98 double plays.

Last season, he saw little playing time due to the Cardinals signing veteran shortstop Jhonny Peralta and spent a good deal of the season in the minors at Memphis Triple-A. However, he was part of the ‘yo-yo’ traveling back and forth between Memphis and St. Louis. Even with only 14 games logged in the majors in 2014, he held a .304 BA/.819 OPS.

Kozma has held a decent fielding percentage – 2011/1.000; 2012/.965; 2013/.984; and, back to 1.000 in 2014.

The Cardinals brought on board, utility infielder Dean Anna this past off season, shortstop position. Anna in his rookie season with the Pirates closed 2014 with a .136 BA/.518 OPS with logging nine games, 49 full innings played and had a .947 FPCT playing shortstop.

Still not quite sure the logic of Anna’s signing. In my opinion, Kozma still has the experience factor in his favor and that may be the main reason the Cardinals held with Kozma on the payroll and his capable bat as we have seen from him.

A new twist was added to Kozma’s utility list, that as an emergency back-up catcher. He, and prospect Greg Garcia, were both in training this Spring for that particular position should the occasion arise.

For Kozma, in my opinion, his willingness to do whatever it takes to play is the appealing factor for the Cardinals. He is receptive in learning a new position, to play infield or outfield.

Per Brandon Wise, CBSSports.com:  “I’ll welcome anything,” said Kozma…. It doesn’t matter where I play. As long as I’m on the field somewhere, I’m OK.”

And, regarding Kozma’s training as catcher – “I know how to call a game,” Kozma said. “I can see all of Yadi’s signs. Whenever he makes a mound visit, I’m right there. … Getting back there and actually doing it, the ball will be a little different than being at the plate or seeing it. I will be able to see a lot more.”

So a utility player is just that. No matter the position, their mindset must be to ready to fill-in and do the best they can. Should they come to the plate with a strong cannon, that is just a plus for the team.

We as fans, sitting in the seats and “managing”, sometimes forget that when a player is not on the field on a regular basis, how hard it must be to kick the ‘idle rust off’ and be ‘up and ready’ at any given moment.

Kozma is a player who gives his all and no one is more frustrated than himself if his performance is not ‘on the mark’.  I believe, he is a player that can, and is more than willing, to perform anywhere on the field.

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