GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- A native of the Memphis area, Reds shortstop prospect Zack Cozart is more than happy to talk up Beale Street and ribs from the famous Rendezvous. Cincinnati has its own well-known ribs place too, the Montgomery Inn, but Cozart has never tried them to compare. There's a location right down the road from Great American Ball Park along the Ohio River. "Hopefully, I will get the chance to taste them there," Cozart said.
If Cozart keeps progressing, the 24-year-old could soon be eating all the renowned Cincinnati food he wants as a Major Leaguer. Since being selected out of the University of Mississippi in the second round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, Cozart has moved briskly. He had two seasons in the Midwest League at low Class A Dayton, but he skipped a level last year and started at Double-A Carolina. He finished the year at Triple-A Louisville for its postseason and also participated in the Arizona Fall League. "He's close, definitely," said Freddie Benavides, who is the Reds' Minor League field coordinator. "Defensively, he could go up there right now. Of course, he needs Triple-A a little bit and to get some at-bats and mature a little more." In his first pro season during 2007, Cozart batted only .239 for Dayton in 53 games with a .288 on-base percentage. He was adjusting to using wooden bats for the first time and was also hampered by a shoulder injury. Back at Dayton in 2008, Cozart improved to a .280 average and .330 OBP with 24 walks compared to 77 strikeouts but showed some pop with 14 home runs and 49 RBIs. Last season at Carolina, he batted .262 with 10 homers, 59 RBIs and a .360 OBP. He walked 63 times compared to 87 strikeouts. Despite playing with a sore thumb, Cozart batted .340 during the Arizona Fall League. "I just think it was learning how to hit," Cozart said. "It was a testament to my hitting coach, Darren Bragg, and [hitting coordinator] Ronnie Ortegon. I learned how to use my lower half. In college, we had metal bats and don't have to use anything. You flick the bat and the ball goes. That first season when people ask me about it, I say it was a huge learning curve. It helped me get better."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.