Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Every day since I starting writing for Nolan Writin’, I get online and scour the ‘net, looking for Ranger related news. Every day since then, I’ve checked on the spring stats and seen the names at the top of the list. There are the ones I expected, Jurickson Profar, Prince Fielder, Adrian Belte ect. Then there’s one name that is there with them, every day, without fail. Kevin Kouzmanoff.
As I write this, “Kooz” is hitting a salty .321 and driven in six runs in 28 at bats. Only Michael Choice has a higher average and only Jurickson Profar has driven in more runs. Those guys are highly touted prospects, future stars that bode well for the future of the franchise.
Kouzmanoff is a journeyman, but he understands what they are going through. You see, Kouzmanoff was also a rising star once. He understands the attention and the pressure to be the next big thing.
In 2006, Kouzmanoff was named MLB.coms’s Minor League Offensive Player of the Year while playing for the Cleveland Indians minor league affiliate in Buffalo. He was also a Baseball America All Star that year.
Some Texas Rangers fans might remember his Major League debut that same year. He became the first player to hit a Grand Slam, on the very first pitch he saw. Then-Ranger Edinson Volquez served up that historic long ball to Kouzmanoff on September 2. 2006. (A feat since equalled.)
That off-season, Kouzmanoff was dealt to San Diego for second baseman Josh Barfield. Kouzmanoff was expected to become the Padres third baseman for the next decade. In his first full Major League season, he flashed signs of that potential, hitting .275 with 18 HRs and 75 RBI for a Padres team that saw a late season wild card berth slip through their hands and then lost a one game playoff for said spot. (Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?)
Kouzmanoff finished that impressive rookie season ninth among National League rookies in RBIs, ninth in home runs, hits and extra base hits and tenth in runs scored. That season, we was named Favorite New Padre. The future looked bright for Kooz and for the Padres in general.
Unfortunately, past performance doesn’t guarantee future production. The 2008 Padres lost 99 games, despite Kouzmanoff hitting a career high 23 homers and driving in 84 runs. However, his batting average plummeted by fifteen points and he had the worst strikeout-to-walk ratio in the majors.
In 2009, as the Padres continued to be also-rans in the NL West, Kooz set the NL single season record for fielding percentage by a third baseman. Kouzmanoff committed just three errors on the season, posting a sparkling .990 fielding percentage. That accomplishment turned out to be a bit of an aberration, as his career fielding average is only .962; but it also speaks to his ability.
Kouzmanoff failed to live up to the potential that he flashed his rookie season. His batting average and slugging numbers continued to slip. Even though he drove in a career best 88 runs in 2009, it appeared that he wasn’t going to develop into the star that some thought he would become.
After the season, he was dealt to Oakland. 2010 would prove to be his last season as a full-time player to date, and he hit only .247 while striking out 96 times. In August 2011, he was traded by the A’s to the Rockies, where he collected his last Major League at-bats. The Rockies outrighted him after the 2011 season and he became a free agent.
The next two spring trainings saw Kouzmanoff trying to latch on, first with the Kansas City Royals in ’12 and last year with the Miami Marlins. He made a serious run at a spot on the Marlin’s roster last season, hitting 3 spring home runs and hitting .345. Still it was not enough and he spent 2013 with the Marlin’s AAA team in New Orleans.
The Texas Rangers signed him in December, and he is again making the most of his opportunity. Although Kouzmanoff is blocked at third by Adrian Beltre, there is some question about infield depth, especially with the injury bug apparently setting up camp with the Rangers this year. Having Kouzmanoff’s veteran presence on the bench, as well as a bat with a little pop in it, might be a plus for a Ranger team that is young in several positions.
Even if Kouzmanoff doesn’t wind up making the Texas Rangers coming out of Spring Training, perhaps his hot bat will help him catch on somewhere and give him a chance at MLB redemption. At only 32, Kooz could still have a productive Major League career somewhere, he just needs someone to give him a chance.
I’m hoping the Texas Rangers will be that team.