Even before the Reds traded Alex Gonzalez yesterday, I had been thinking about shortstop prospect Zack Cozart for a couple of days. I know Cozart isn't a major prospect - he's probably not even in the top 10 in the Reds' system - but he may be the closest thing to a legitimate big league shortstop that the Reds have in the minors. Because of this, he interests me.
For those that don't know much about Cozart, he's reputed to play gold glove level defense at shortstop. John Sickels says this in his most recent prospect book (p. 110):
Cozart is an excellent defensive shortstop, with above average to excellent attributes in all categories.
This is a fairly typical scouting report for the 23-year old right-hander who the Reds took in the 2nd round of the 2007 draft. The knock on him has always been his bat though. He's said to have a quick bat, but a poor approach, swinging for power more than he really should. He does appear to have made some adjustments this year. He has walked twice as much this season as last in 12 fewer PA, and he's traded some home runs for doubles. Personally, I prefer a player that has at least one serious batting skill than to be no real threat across the board. If Cozart's patience at the plate is a reall change, his potential ability to get on base could be a good asset for him.
But that's not what interests me about him. To me, I'm mainly interested in his glove, and maximizing his value at the big league level. I don't think he'll ever be a great hitter, though I suppose he could be a slightly below average one, which would suffice. The key though is to take advantage of his superior glove while it is at it's peak. A player's overall value tends to peak around age 27 or 28, but defensive value usually peaks a bit before that. As Beyond the Boxscore has shown in the following graph, a shortstop's range peaks around age 24, and then typically starts a general decline from there:
For a player like Cozart, whose value is going to be predominately tied to his glove, his peak is likely to be earlier than is typical. It might make sense for the Reds to push him to the big leagues in 2010, so that they can take full advantage of his defensive value while it is peaking. I imagine this was a similar philosophy to what the Reds did with Dave Concepcion in the 1970s. Concepcion was a disaster at the plate his first three seasons, but they still got some value out of him because of his excellent glove. To be honest though, I'm not real sure if it was a net positive - he was TERRIBLE at the plate.
Then again, the 70s Reds also had plenty of bats at other positions, so they could sacrifice offense at shortstop. The 2009 Reds - close to the worst offense in Reds history - don't lead us to believe that they could take on a no hit shortstop and succeed. The ideal situation is still to acquire someone like J.J. Hardy or perhaps to move Brandon Phillips over to shortstop and get a decent bat to play 2B. However, barring any solid acquisition, I think the Reds could do much worse than putting a cheap Cozart in at shortstop in 2010 and trying to find a strong bat in a more offensive prone position like left field.