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2015: Zack Cozart's Last Stand as a Cincinnati Red?

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Could the Reds move on from Zack Cozart?

Zack Cozart says whaaat?
Zack Cozart says whaaat?
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Biographical:
Zachary Warren Cozart
DOB: August 12, 1985
Hometown: Collierville, TN
High School: Collierville High School (TN)

For no reason whatsoever, I want to add this, from the "official" Zack Cozart Wikipedia page and, if it's on Wikipedia, it HAS to be true and grammatically correct:

"Zack's Cozart grand parents and great grandparents are of Calhoun County, Miss. His grand parents are Durell and Martha Nell (Murphree) Cozart and his Cozart great grandparents were Emry and Anna (Terry) Cozart. His Murphree great grandparents were Clarence and Mae (Tiner) Murphree."

Don't act like you didn't learn something by reading this, friends.

Tale of the Tape:
Position: Shortstop
Bats: Right      Throws: Right
Height: 6'0"   Weight: 195 lbs.

Nicknames:
Zackuum, Wolfgang Amadeus Cozart

Notes from the Past:
Zack Cozart was a three sport athlete in high school, splitting his talents between football, basketball and baseball. Turns out, Zack wasn't a slouch on the court; he earned All-Metro honors and lead the league in three-pointers made his sophomore year. It's no surprise, though, that young Zack excelled most at baseball. The Memphis Commercial Appeal named Cozart to their "Best of the Preps" list in his junior and senior season. Cozart didn't disappoint the college scouts on route to a career .430 batting average at the school.

Ultimately choosing to hone his craft at the University of Mississippi, Cozart turned in a stellar college career. His player page at Ole Miss houses the gritty details of his freshman year, but the gist is this: Zack was named to the SEC All-Freshman team and the SEC All-Tournament team and generally was just a prolific player while starting damn near all the games at shortstop. The next two years, he'd earn All-SEC honors, while cracking third-team All American in 2006. All told, Cozart left Ole Miss Baseball with a .310/.367/.473 career slash line.

Other current Major Leaguers hailing from the University of Mississippi: Aaron Barrett (WAS), Chris Coghlan (CHC), Zack Cozart (CIN), David Goforth (MIL), Lance Lynn (STL), Drew Pomeranz (OAK), Alex Presley (HOU), Seth Smith (SEA).

Our Cincinnati Reds selected Zack Cozart in the 2007 first-year player draft with the 79th overall pick. Zack started in Dayton soon thereafter, struggling in his adjustment to the professionals. In 53 games, Cozart batted (foreboded?) .239/.288/.332 and yucked his way right out of that season.

Zack would turn it around a bit in 2008, playing out the season in Dayton, boosting his OPS to .787 while slamming 14 salamis and showing that he possessed a bit of power rare for his position. In 2009 he did much of the same for AA Carolina, while also earning himself a trip to the Arizona Fall League, where he decided to RAKE that small sample against some of the best prospects in the game. In 13 games and 56 plate appearances, Cozart composed (it's a Mozart pun, stupid) a .340/.393/.560 line, good for a smoking hot .953 OPS. Zack turned that showing into a trip to AAA Louisville for the 2010 season, where he had a good-not-great season for the Bats, while Paul Janish put up basically the same numbers (in far less PAs) for the major league team and Orlando Cabrera did whatever the heck it was he was doing at shortstop in 2010 for the Reds. 2011 saw Cozart turn up the bat a bit, and due to the aforementioned yuck at shortstop (except insert Edgar Rentaria's corpse and former-St. Louis-Cardinals-iness for O-Cab), Cozart earned his ticket to The Show.

The Majors
Everyone got pretty excited for Zack Cozart in his initial showing at the majors. He managed to rack up 11 hits in his first 7 games, with a home run and two RBIs and compared to what the Reds were used to getting from the position at that point, he may as well have been Barry Larkin. And while it was just a matter of time before the league caught up with him in 2011, it was pretty awful to see him injure his elbow and miss the remainder of the season.

Cozart was named the 75th best prospect in all of baseball going into the 2012 season, and entered the season as the best SS option Cincinnati had. Finding himself in the Opening Day starting lineup, Reds fans got familiar with the player that Zack Cozart was going to be. Gone was .800+ OPS that he teased with the sensational start in 2011, in was the struggle at the plate while flashing Gold Glove worthy defense at short. Cozart slashed an unspectacular-but-serviceable .246/.288/.399 and played fantastic defense while the Reds enjoyed themselves a 97 win season. 2013 brought much of the same, and other than being penciled in at 2nd in the batting order too many damn times, Cozart was the least of the Reds problems in either of the years.

The bottom done fell WAY out at the plate for Zack in 2014, as he was arguably the worst everyday hitter in baseball. Then again, he continued the otherworldly defense, and managed to have a positive impact on the team overall (1.2 WAR). While the bat was horrid, the defensive effort again put Cozart well down on the list titled "Reds Problems."

Contract
The Reds signed Zack Cozart to a 1 year/$2.3m contract on January 17th, 2015, to avoid arbitration.

Stats

Baseball Reference

Fangraphs

Scouting Report
Via The Baseball Cube

Speed: 61
Contact: 70
Patience: 26
Batting: 51
Power: 50

Defensive
Fans Scouting Report ratings (via Fangraphs) (2014 rating/career rating):

Instincts: 78/69
First Step: 75/69
Speed: 64/61
Hands: 86/74
Release: 93/80
Arm Strength: 73/63
Arm Accuracy: 86/73

Overall: 79/70

FSR (Fans Scouting Report runs above average): 14/21

UZR/150 2014: 13.0

2015 Projections

PA HR R RBI SB AVG/OBP/SLG DEF WAR
Steamer 437 8 38 39 3 .239/.280/.356 +10.6 1.3
ZiPS 570 9 66 48 5 .244/.284/.359 +14.3 1.8

PITCHf/x Hitter Profile

<img src="http://www.brooksbaseball.net/plot_h_profile.php?gFilt=&pFilt=FA%7CSI%7CFC%7CCH%7CFS%7CSB%7CCU%7CSL%7CCS%7CKN&player=446359&startDate=07%2F01%2F2011&endDate=03%2F03%2F2015&var=count&b_hand=-1">

Looking at 2015

Zack Cozart will turn 30 years old during the 2015 season.  This seems crazy to me, considering we've just barely gotten to know Zack it seems, but I promise it's a fact. He's only four years younger than Brandon Phillips, and Brandon Phillips has been playing baseball since dinosaurs roamed the earth.

Basically, Zack Cozart is who Zack Cozart is going to be at this point, offensively. I'm not sure that he's really the worst everyday batter in the league, but it might be silly to expect him to start getting on base consistently (DUMB, even) or ever be particularly productive at the plate. The other issue that comes with age, of course, is declining skills in defense. By many metrics, 2014 was Zack's best defensively, so it's not like he's actively showing a slowdown. But, the Reds are paying him 2.5 million dollars this season. Let's say that he's not 56 wRC+ bad at the plate, but let's also assume that the 15 home runs aren't coming back. What is a team to do?

One of Zack's best attributes (and biggest for the team-slash-MASH-unit he plays on) has been durability. Aside from the elbow injury that ended his rookie campaign before it began, Zack's been incredibly reliable for a team that's desperately needed it. Again: Zack Cozart will be 30 this season. I'll assume that he's not the second coming of Cal Ripken, Jr., and maybe it's just PTSD from the 2014 season, but I have to wonder when the other shoe is going to drop.

In the offseason, the Reds traded for Eugenio Suarez, who's pretty damn close to being major league ready. He's hit at varying degrees at every level, and while nobody is going to argue that his defense is as good as Cozart's, the reports range anywhere from "passable" to "above-average." And he's only 23 years old.

I'm probably overselling the age issue. It's not like Cozart transformed into an old man overnight, but it's something to keep in mind. The Reds went from paying $600,000 to an all defense, horrid bat shortstop in 2014 to paying 2.5 million dollars for a probably-not-as-good-defense-but-still-really-good, not-horrid-but-still-well-below-average bat in 2015. Yeah, this is a team that gives 2.5 million dollars to bad defense, horrid bat, good-for-nothing Skip Schumaker and whoever else every year. So maybe they don't have a problem doing this in perpetuity (that is, 2018, when Zack becomes a free agent) with Cozart.

Basically, this was a long winded way of saying that this could be the last season you see Zack Cozart manning shortstop for the Cincinnati Reds, especially if the bat never comes back to respectability and the defense falters in a quantifiable way. There are signs for optimism; Zack has showed pop that basically went away for no reason last year. It's not unreasonable to believe that some of that will come back. Maybe instead of four home runs we could see 8? 10? As bad as he was at the plate, and as bad as that OBP was in 2014, Cozart's K% was actually the lowest its been in his major league career. Sure, he still doesn't walk and he probably never will. But, if he can turn that .255 BABIP from 2014 into something that resembles his career mark of .276 while lowering his K% again... we could certainly be on to something.

As I've mentioned above a few times, even if his bat doesn't rebound and assuming he still puts up great defense, Zack will continue to be the least of the Reds worries. Chances are 2015 will see him be a consistent, reliable presence in the Reds lineup day after day while being completely unspectacular at the plate but at times eye-popping in the field. But, considering the options the Reds find themselves with, 2015 could be the last.