It’s not an unfamiliar situation for Pete Kozma–the St. Louis Cardinals have Jhonny Peralta starting at shortstop and Kolten Wong at second base with at least one open spot on the roster for someone to back them up. Last year it was Daniel Descalso and Mark Ellis that were his competition in Spring Training. This year Dean Anna, Greg Garcia, and Ty Kelly join him in the mix.
But unlike past seasons, Kozma no longer has any options. If he does not make the big league roster, he cannot be sent down to Memphis without first clearing waivers. That could be an advantage of his in the competition.
“I’m not gonna assume anything,” stated Kozma recently. “I’m going to go in, work my butt off, and try to make the team in St. Louis first. If something else happens, then so be it. We’ll have to see what happens.”
Something happened last season when the Cardinals needed to clear a roster spot for Marco Gonzales to make his Major League debut the end of June. Shelby Miller’s unexpected back issue resulted in the team designating Kozma for assignment. He cleared waivers and then was optioned to Memphis. The waivers were revocable, but any of the 29 other teams could have claimed him. Kozma is glad they didn’t–he wants to stay in St. Louis.
“They drafted me for a reason, they’ve kept me since 2007,” explained Pete. “They haven’t shown that they wanted to get rid of me or anything like that. I know most of the guys here–I’m comfortable here. The way things work and everybody’s on board, everybody gets along–it’s a good place to be. I like being here.”
And that is in part why just a few months removed from being the starting shortstop for the Cardinals in the World Series, he took the assignment to Memphis in stride and continued to work on his approach at the plate.
“I focused on trying to cut my strikeouts down, trying to get on base, and trying to get my walks and strikeouts about even rather than having my strikeouts higher than my walks,” said Kozma of his time last year in Triple-A. “The stuff me and Mabry were working on the year before, I kind of carried that over and applied it to last season.”
Kozma struck out 91 times and had 34 walks in 448 plate appearances in 2013. He improved to 65 strikeouts and 44 walks in 463 PA’s last season.
Defensively, Kozma again plans to see most of his work in the middle infield–but he’s open to whatever Mike Matheny might have in mind.
“If he names a position, I’m going to say yes–I’m not going to say no,” laughed Pete, agreeing to even don a catcher’s mask. “Yes, I’ll pitch I have to.”
Kozma plans to arrive with the pitchers and catchers for Spring Training on February 19th.
photo credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports