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TCN Blog 2012 top story #14: Kozma’s surprising September

It seems especially fitting to post this story on Christmas Day as it is one of persistence and hope.

Ever since his selection at 18th overall in the first round of the 2007 draft, shortstop Pete Kozma quietly worked on his game. After almost six years of trying, the 24-year-old may have experienced his 15 minutes of fame with perhaps the most unlikely story of the 2012 St. Louis Cardinals.

Kozma became the club’s everyday shortstop in September and kept the job through the post-season. During much of that time, he was uncharacteristically good when his team needed him the most.

Following the Cardinals elimination from the post-season, manager Mike Matheny summed it up this way:

“I don’t believe that we’re here right now, and I don’t know if we would have got out of September, early October, if we hadn’t had Pete Kozma step up like he did,” the manager said. “He’s been a tremendous shortstop for us.”

Back on draft day, the choice was second-guessed by some who had hoped the Cardinals would take expensive high school pitcher Rick Porcello instead. Kozma was said to lack a standout took but also had no glaring weaknesses.

The Cardinals moved the Oklahoman ahead at a reasonable pace as he hit fairly well. However, upon reaching Double-A Springfield early in the 2009 season, his progress slowed, offensively and defensively.

By the time the right-handed hitter reached Triple-A in 2011, he really began to struggle with the bat. Kozma’s OPS the last two years were among the lowest in the 16-team Pacific Coast League.

When called up to St. Louis the most recent and only time in 2012, on August 31, his .232 batting average was dead last among PCL qualifiers. In other words, expectations were low.

Kozma had been the Redbirds’ primary second baseman this season with Ryan Jackson the regular shortstop. Yet, when Rafael Furcal went down, it was Kozma who was given the chance at short each day.

As the season neared its end, Kozma played a bigger and bigger role in Cardinals wins. In a four-game road stretch from September 22-25, he victimized the Cubs and Astros with two home runs and six RBI.

In the final week as the Cards took two of three over Washington at Busch Stadium, Kozma finished the series with seven hits, six RBI and three runs scored.

In 26 regular-season games with St. Louis, Kozma drove in 14 runs (second-most on the team during that time) and logged a line of .333/.383/.569. His defense was steady.

As the playoffs began with the Wild Card Game in Atlanta, Kozma was an unexpected focal point. The 6-3 St. Louis win was protested to no avail by the Braves after Kozma dropped an eighth-inning fly ball in short left field that was ruled an out via the infield fly rule. The game had to be stopped for 19 minutes as Atlanta fans pelted the field with debris.

The ball again found Kozma at a critical point in Game 1 of the League Division Series. His eighth-inning error led to a pair of unearned runs in Washington’s 3-2 win.

Yet he came through at the plate in the ninth inning of deciding Game 5. After having been the second Cardinal to be down to his last strike, Kozma struck the go-ahead two-run single. His teammates waited to pop the celebratory corks until the unlikely star arrived in the clubhouse.

Kozma finished the LDS with an OBP of .455 and contributed five RBI, second-most on the team.

Like his team overall, Kozma’s magic ran out against San Francisco in the League Championship Series. He batted just .237 and was exposed defensively, committing two errors and several other key miscues, including an especially rough Game 7.

As the Cardinals head into 2013, Kozma’s role is unclear. He should compete for a reserve spot with St. Louis, but could just as easily find himself back in Triple-A.

Either way, no one can take away his surprising contributions down the stretch to the 2012 Cardinals.

Link to The Cardinal Nation Blog’s top 20 stories of the year countdown

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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8 Responses to “TCN Blog 2012 top story #14: Kozma’s surprising September”

  1. crdswmn says:

    I still think Kozma is a one month wonder, but for his sake and team’s sake I hope he has finally found something.

    Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone.

  2. JumboShrimp says:

    The Cards moved Skp, to clear roster space for Pete. Having a lefty/lefty platoon at 2B with Descalso and Schumaker made no sense, so Skip left and Pete is now platooning with Descalso, plus backing up Furcal, who suffers chronic back pain and can’t play everyday.

    What position in baseball tends to have the lowest OPS? Short-stop. What park in the PCL is the lowest in terms of hitting? Memphis. Accordingly, who is probabilistically likeliest to have the lowest OPS in the PCL? The easy answer: an everyday middle infielder with the Memphis Redbirds. If Pete had low hitting stats among PCL qualifiers, this is not an all telling statistic. It shows the Cards wanted to play him, because they like his defensive abilities.

    Poor Brendan Ryan has declined with the bat and had an OPS of circa 555 last season for the Mariners. Kozma can hit better than Brendan. Pete is probably a 650 OPS at the ML level. For another comparison, we endured Cesar Izturis’ 630 in 2008 and Pete can probably outhit Cesar. If Pete’s at bats are concentrated against LHPs as the Cards plan, favorable matchups can lift his OPS.

    Kozma got the playing time in September over Jackson because Pete has served more time at Memphis (2 seasons versus 1) and is hard-nosed, whereas Jackson committed an error in his first game at unfamiliar 2B, the Cards were in a pennant chase, and went with the steadier Kozma. Jackson is still a strong prospect at SS. The Cards are blessed to be well stocked in middle infield prospects.

    • crdswmn says:

      Brendan Ryan is so superior defensively to Kozma that the difference in hitting is irrelevant.

      We are talking about the SS that the Fielding Bible panel said was not only the best defensive SS in baseball, but the best defensive player in baseball, period. Kozma is an amateur comparatively.

      • JumboShrimp says:

        We shall see the contract Ryan will command for 2013. There have been strong defenders who have played in the majors for many years. Brendan may become another. Only time will reveal.

    • Brian Walton says:

      Jumbo said:

      “The Cards moved Skp, to clear roster space for Pete…”

      In your mind, they did. Then, as soon as they sign or trade for another middle infielder, you will say it is good for Pete to get more Triple-A seasoning…

      • JumboShrimp says:

        Hah, not bad Brian. If the Cards were to land an additional veteran middle infielder, it is possible Kozma may return to Memphis for more seasoning. Or, if we do not add another infielder, Pete has a good chance of making the 2013 squad out of spring training.

        During June 2012, Luhnow got to make the first selection in the MLB draft. The Astros were expected to take an advanced college pitcher. Instead, Luhnow selected a high school SS (and saved a couple of million in bonus money then invested at later rounds). Similarly in 2005, with his first selection, Luhnow preferred SS Tyler Greene, though the Cards juggled their priorities after they learned the Marlins were going to select Rasmus, if they went with Greene first. And in 2007, Luhnow chose Kozma. SSes are valuable.

  3. JumboShrimp says:

    Kozma is a run producer. In 2010, at Springfield, he racked up 72 RBIs, very good for a SS. In 2012, at Memphis, Pete led the team in RBIs, though usually well down the lineup. Accordingly, if Kozma drove in 14 from the 8th hole, during the final 25 games of the season, its not a surprise. Its what Pete does.

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