Cozart aiming to continue growth in 2013

Cozart aiming to continue growth in 2013

CINCINNATI -- As far as Reds shortstop Zack Cozart was concerned, his biggest success from his rookie season was something that can't be measured by existing statistics.

"The coolest thing for me is I think I got the respect of my teammates," Cozart said. "They know I can go out there and help them win -- that was key. As a rookie, you're always trying to prove yourself to your teammates and the fans. I think I did that pretty well and I'm looking forward to getting to Spring Training."

Cozart, 27, was given an endorsement of sorts that indicates he's in the Reds' long-term plans. After the season, the organization moved top Minor League prospect Billy Hamilton from shortstop to center field. While that move had as much to do with preserving Hamilton's body because he steals so much, the other move was clearer. Last week, young shortstop Didi Gregorius departed to Arizona in a three-team trade, because he was blocked at the big league level by Cozart.

In 138 games last season, Cozart batted .246 with 15 home runs, 33 doubles and 35 RBIs for Cincinnati. His homer total was the most in franchise history by a rookie shortstop and the most by a rookie shortstop in the Majors since Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki hit 24 homers in 2007.

Defensively, Cozart made 14 errors but was ranked third among National League shortstops with a .975 fielding percentage and seventh with a 2.0 defensive wins above replacement rating.

Of course, there is room for improvement and Cozart was given some homework by manager Dusty Baker when the team gathered for Redsfest last weekend.

"Cozart learned some things, and there's a lot more to learn," Baker said. "I know he can get that fastball going. Pitch selection has to get better. Bunting, I think, [and hitting in the] No. 2 role. But he's a tremendous talent. I like his attitude. He's not scared. He likes to be there. If we can teach him how to hit with runners in scoring position, some things that all young guys can learn."

Cozart, who had only a .288 on-base percentage last season, appeared to agree, especially about the bunting.

"That's little stuff I could have done a lot better with last year," Cozart said. "I want to get better and try to perfect it for next year."

Cozart might not be in the No. 2 spot in the order any longer, now that the Reds have acquired Shin-Soo Choo to leadoff. It should put Brandon Phillips in the second spot and Cozart down in the order. But December isn't a time for lineup card writing anyway.

At the plate, Cozart was at times prone to extended slumps, especially from the leadoff spot. It didn't affect his play at shortstop, where he demonstrated an ability to make both the routine plays and many challenging ones.

"That's a tribute to him, his mental strength," Baker said. "He didn't take his offense to the field. You can't afford to do that at shortstop. You've got to play winning baseball."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.