Coming into the 2013 season, many St. Louis Cardinals fans did not know what to expect out of the shortstop position after learning that veteran Rafael Furcal would miss the entire year due to Tommy John surgery. The organization had very few options and eventually settled on handing the job to former first-round pick Pete Kozma.
So far, so good for Kozma and the Cardinals, as the the 25-year old is one of several Cardinals who are exceeding expectations thus far in 2013. Wes Keene of StlSportsMinute.com recently graded Kozma's first month of the season, giving him a B, and that analysis feels spot on and may even be a bit harsh.
Here are several reasons why Kozma has been better than expected.
Kozma has been exactly what the Cardinals have needed to fill the void at the shortstop position this year, and here is why. The Cardinals lineup is stacked with big, powerful and productive bats with the likes of Matt Holliday, Allen Craig and Carlos Beltran. The Cardinals do not need Kozma to hit 20 home runs or knock in 80 RBI. They need him to get on base and take good at-bats, and any production they receive from him at the bottom of the order serves as an added bonus.
Fortunately for the Cardinals, Kozma is providing them with that bonus. The 6'0", 190-pound right-handed shortstop recently had a seven-game hitting streak snapped and finds himself hitting a very respectable .262 with a home run and 11 RBI on the year.
While Kozma's batting average is good, his on-base percentage is even better. Kozma has drawn 10 walks while striking out just 18 times on the year and is getting on base 31.9 percent of the time. That is outstanding production at the back end of the order. Anytime the No. 8 hitter in a lineup can get on base that much and force the pitcher to bat and turn the batting order over the better. And Kozma is doing an outstanding job of taking good at-bats.
Kozma's offense has been a pleasant surprise, especially considering he has been so consistent. But his defense is the part of his game that should really get attention.
Kozma has made just one error through his first 31 games played in 2013. Atlanta's Andrelton Simmons and Texas' Elvis Andrus are the only shortstops with fewer at zero, and perennial All-Star Troy Tulowitzki of the Colorado Rockies also has just one error. Kozma's .993 fielding percentage is outstanding.
Kozma has been solid with the glove while covering a lot of ground as well. Kozma's 4.74 range factor at shortstop is sixth best in all of baseball, which is a huge component to consider after factoring the number of ground balls the Cardinals pitching staff induces.
Kozma has exceeded expectations both offensively and defensively. He is getting on base at the bottom of the Cardinals order and has been a stabilizing force defensively at the most important position on the field.
Kozma is giving the Cardinals exactly what they were hoping after handing him the job, and if he can continue to play at this level, the organization may have a solid shortstop for years to come.
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