KOUZMANOFF HANDS OVER GLOVE TO HALL OF FAME
Kevin Kouzmanoff grinned as he discussed the paradox.
“I don't want to be seen just as a defensive third baseman,” Macedonian-American Major League Baseball player Kevin Kouzmanoff, said on monday after a Petco Park ceremony that saw him turn over his black Rawlings glove to the Hall of Fame.
Kouzmanoff made National League history this season with a .990 fielding percentage, becoming the first third baseman to commit only three errors with more than 300 chances – which led to the call from Cooperstown. However, when he came to the Padres from Cleveland three years ago in a trade for Josh Barfield, Kouzmanoff had a “good hit/no field” reputation.
“I didn't want to be known that way,” Kouzmanoff said. “I have really worked hard on my defense.” The proof goes beyond the fielding percentage. Kouzmanoff didn't make a throwing error this season. And he made great strides charging bunts and topped rollers. “Third is a reaction position,” Kouzmanoff said. “The quicker you react, the more plays you make.”
But third is also a hitting position. And Kouzmanoff knows there is still work to be done in the half of playing third that was considered his forte. “I think the power is there, I think the bat speed is there,” Kouzmanoff said. “I think I can be a 25 (homer), 100 (RBI) player.”
After a third straight slow start with the bat – .214 with one homer and nine RBI after 36 games – Kouzmanoff came on strong over the second half of the season. From July 5 on, Kouzmanoff hit .288 with 20 doubles, eight homers and 48 RBI in 62 games. Almost as importantly, his on-base percentage over the span was .336 compared to .278 – the lowest for any regular position player in the majors – for the first half of the season.
Kouzmanoff had moved ahead of Adrian Gonzalez into the Padres' RBI lead in the first week of September when he suffered a left calf strain that, combined with a lower back injury, forced him to miss 18 of the season's final 22 games.
“I felt like at the point in the season right before the injury, I was starting to feel locked in,” said Kouzmanoff, who was on a 100-RBI pace. “I was seeing the ball really well and had developed a different mind-set. “I'm looking forward to next season.” Not that the 28-year-old Kouzmanoff knows what this offseason will bring.
Kouzmanoff will be one of the first questions facing the Padres' next general manager. The third baseman is arbitration-eligible for the first time, meaning one way or another he'll get a healthy raise over the $432,400 he made this season. But the Padres have an option at third in Chase Headley. With Kouzmanoff having more value than Headley on the trade market, the Padres might even choose to trade Kouzmanoff.
“I have no control,” Kouzmanoff said yesterday. “I want to stay here. I'm excited about how the entire team played over the last two months. But what happens, happens. “I'm just like everyone else, waiting to see what does happen.”
The glove Kouzmanoff gave to the Hall of Fame, which will be displayed in the Padres exhibit at Cooperstown, was one of two he used last season. “I started the season with this glove, which is smaller and lighter than the one I used in the second half,” Kouzmanoff said. “I'm honored because I came into this with a reputation of being a poor fielding third baseman.”
[San Diego Union-Tribune]