There are few people in baseball who know the ins and outs of the middle infield quite like Ozzie Smith.
Now, the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame shortstop is offering his take on current middle infielders Pete Kozma and Matt Carpenter.
During spring training, Smith visited the Cardinals facility in Jupiter, Fla. where he spent time working with everyone, but most specifically with Kozma, Carpenter and Daniel Descalso.
“One of the things you look for is what the guys’ work habits are and so on,” Smith said. “I feel that these two guys [Kozma and Carpenter] are going to be, or can be, big league infielders for a long time to come.”
Smith believes that a positive attitude and being open to change is a real asset for a young major leaguer.
“They’re not taking anything for granted,” he said.
Of Kozma, Smith said he feels like he probably arrived in the major leagues about a year too early. Despite that, he believes his experience in the postseason last year was good for him.
“He’s playing extremely well,” he said, noting that he’s most impressed particularly with Kozma’s defense, although his bat has come a long way over the past year.
“It’s really helpful [getting to train alongside Hall of Famers],” Kozma said. “It’s not just seeing them standing there either. They come out and work with all of us.”
Smith said he thinks Kozma is playing extremely well and has the potential to develop into a solid major league player.
With Carpenter, Smith said he expects his versatility to give him a high ceiling in a league of specialized, single-role players.
Carpenter is more than just a utility man who can fill a gap when someone is out. Smith believes he has the ability to adapt and be an everyday player anywhere they decide to put him on the field or in the lineup.
“Matt is one of those players that you can stick him anywhere and he’s going to find a way to make it work,” he said, noting that the ability to adapt is the key to being indispensable to your team.
Carpenter will be the first to say that Smith’s instruction was crucial to his ongoing development as a second baseman.
“We talked a lot about the pivot at second base and how to have the right mindset as a middle infielder,” Carpenter said. “We just picked his brain throughout the whole spring training.”
While the on-the-field help meant a lot to Carpenter, he said the most helpful part of their time working together was on Smith’s last night in Jupiter.
“The coolest thing was the last day before he was gone from spring training,” Carpenter said. “He took me, Pete and Descalso out for dinner. We just sat there picking his brain for hours. It was a real cool experience.”
Both Carpenter and Kozma said they know this isn’t an opportunity they would have with just any organization and feel that it’s given them a competitive advantage as players.
For a franchise to have so many living, active Hall of Famers still in its midst is quite a statement, according to Carpenter.
“The Cardinals do such a great job of keeping them close by and letting them kind of have their hands on with the team,” he said. “It’s a huge thrill for guys like me. The amount of knowledge you can gain from guys like Lou Brock and Bob Gibson who are constantly around is just limitless.”
Given a little time and some patience, the 14-time Gold Glove shortstop believes both men have what it takes to not only play, but sustain at the major league level.
“There’s always a question mark coming in as to whether or not you have stability up the middle,” Smith said. “I think that, given time, these guys will become consistent players and can give the Cardinals some needed stability up the middle.”
All quotes obtained firsthand by the author.