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Zack Cozart: More on the Horizon

Another week, another position. If you haven’t already, then take a look at Zach Sanders’ Shortstop End of Season Rankings and we can scroll down together to find Cincinnati’s Zack Cozart, probably one of the more disappointing players this year, given the preseason hype and expectations. He was supposed to be this awesome blend of power and speed who was also capable of hitting for average, but after a season filled with a few bumps in the road, Cozart had left his owners wanting/needing more.

Cozart’s overall batting line — .246-72-15-35-4 — actually wasn’t that bad in comparison to the rest of the National League shortstops. The batting average and equally horrific .288 on-base percentage leave a lot to be desired, but he ranked fourth in home runs, third in doubles, and fifth in runs scored. His 35 RBI come from 433 of his 561 at-bats in the leadoff spot and while four stolen bases don’t really do much, at least there was something, as only eight NL shortstops collected double-digit steals.  His stats were acceptable in standard, roto leagues and he was actually favored in ottoneu, according to Chad Young’s latest piece.

Cozart became a little tough to take in head to head leagues though as he was ridiculously streaky. It was great if you had him going for one of those nice, little six-game hit streaks with a little burst of power, but if you didn’t have a viable alternative, then you were also forced to deal with a number of 1-for-32’s. Until he brings more consistency to the plate, you might want to steer clear of him in this format. Which, of course, bodes the question of whether or not he can bring that consistency.

To be honest, it’s hard to say whether or not he will ever establish that level of consistency which makes for great fantasy players. He’s an excellent contact hitter who doesn’t go fishing outside the zone too much, but he doesn’t always make clean contact which leads to what has been a fluctuating BABIP dating back to his earliest minor league years. Sometimes the balls bounce his way, sometimes they don’t. Even with a much improved 1.09 GB/FB with a 20-percent line drive rate, he still had three months of the season where his BABIP was .281 or lower; much lower in two of those three months, actually. So is he just terribly unlucky, or are pitchers just pitching him like a predictable pull-hitter who struggles to get clean wood on an inside fastball? If he’s relying on luck, then you may as well forget about consistency, but if he continues to learn and grow as a hitter, then those numbers he put up in Triple-A in 2010 could end up a major league reality.

Personally, I think he’s worth the investment in 2013 and beyond. It would be one thing if he was up there just hacking away, but his swing rates are slightly below average which means he’s actually being selective up there while also not striking out at an alarming rate. In fact, both his strikeout rate (18.8%) and swinging-strike rate (7.4%) were better than league average. Sure, you’d like to see him draw more walks, but I’d be willing to forgo that aspect so long as he was finding a way to make cleaner contact. The end result, a better on-base percentage, could be attained either way. It might take him a little while for it all to click at the same time, but if he can learn to spray the ball the opposite way more while also learning to turn on that inside fastball, then he could be in line for a tremendous breakout at some point. The steals may be a little harder to come by on a Dusty Baker-run team, but the power could be due for a few ticks upward.