Kouzmanoff refreshing in more ways than one


Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

There’s a reason the Texas Rangers consistently take flyers on players entering their 30s and are making one last gasp to either, A) make it in the big leagues altogether or, B) resurrect their respective careers.

Those flyers usually don’t come at large cost and they offer low risks and, hopefully, high rewards.

Some recent examples are Nelson Cruz — who fell into the “A” category — and Marlon Byrd and Joe Nathan, who fell into the “B” category.

The reason the Rangers have been taking flyers on these guys is because you never know when a Nelson Cruz, a Marlon Byrd, a Joe Nathan or now – again, hopefully — a Kevin Kouzmanoff can give you those rewards.

Those flyers don’t always pay off, as the recent experiments of players such as Rich Harden, Brandon Webb, Tommy Hanson and – maybe – Joe Saunders have shown.

Kouzmanoff certainly falls into the category of career resurrection and, while it’s way too premature to say he has already resurrected his career, he has certainly been a refreshing story and presence in the Texas Rangers’ lineup.

Prior to 2014, Kouzmanoff had not played in the Major Leagues since 2011, when the candlelight to his career appeared to be quickly dwindling.

After four consecutive seasons – from 2007-10 — in which he didn’t have less than 534 plate appearances, Kouzmanoff struggled and barely eclipsed 250 plate appearances for Oakland and Colorado in 2011.

He hit .235 that year with seven home runs and 33 RBIs with a measly OBP of .284.

Needless to say, underwhelming had become an understatement when it came to Kouzmanoff’s projected ability and his actual output.

He signed minor league contracts with the Kansas City Royals and Miami Marlins between then and now, but he had not seen the field in a Major League uniform since 2011.

Kouzmanoff was signed after the 2013 season by the Texas Rangers, with an invite to 2014 Spring Training, as another one of those flyers.

At age 32, Kouzmanoff came into camp and flat out raked.  He hit .370 with three home runs, 12 RBIs, three doubles, five walks, a slugging percentage of .593 and an OBP of .443.

It was just Spring Training, yes, but his production during that time made it very hard for the Rangers to deny him a spot on the 25-man roster when camp broke.

The Rangers decided to outright Kouzmanoff to the minors, however, and the Rangers got lucky.

No, it wasn’t lucky when Adrian Beltre went down with a quad injury, eventually landing on the disabled list, but they were lucky Kouzmanoff — who could have elected for free agency when they sent him down — decided to stay with the team and get at-bats in the Minors.

Now, he has become a solid regular at the No. 5 spot in the batting order behind Prince Fielder, and he currently has a slash line of .450/.522/.750 through six games and 23 plate appearances.

It has been written and discussed about how Fielder needs to step up with the loss of Beltre, but Fielder also needs protection in the lineup himself, and Kouzmanoff has certainly been doing that so far.

Not surprisingly, Fielder creamed his first home run of the 2014 season to dead center last night and Kouzmanoff followed — on the very next pitch — by hammering a Blake Beavan fastball high into the left-field bleachers.

If this production can continue, it should allow Fielder to relax even more and – here’s that word again, hopefully – see more pitches.

With the devastation the roster has had to go through from the onset of Spring Training – and off-season, if you want to count Derek Holland’s knee injury – an unexpected ballplayer like Kouzmanoff stepping up for this team is incredibly refreshing.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  If the Texas Rangers can sustain a .500 record through the month of April, big things should happen in May, June and so on.

They’re going to need players like Kouzmanoff to keep holding down the fort.