Prospect of the Day: Zack Cozart, SS, Cincinnati Reds
The Cincinnati Reds promoted shortstop prospect Zack Cozart to the majors right before the All-Star Break. Is he the long-term solution up the middle?
Cozart was drafted by the Reds in the second round in 2007, from the University of Mississippi. He'd hit .311/.389/.432 as a junior. Many scouts rated him as the top defensive shortstop in college baseball, but there were questions about how well he'd hit with wood against good pitching. Those doubts grew bigger after he hit just .239/.288/.332 in 53 games for Low-A Dayton after signing.
He returned to Dayton in 2008 and was much more effective, hitting .280/.330/.457 with 14 homers, though some scouts felt he swung for the fences too much and that his power wouldn't carry to higher levels. He hit .262/.360/.398 with 10 homers for Double-A Carolina in '09, hitting 10 homers while showing greatly improved plate discipline, more than doubling his walk rate. In '10 he played for Triple-A Louisville, hitting .255/.310/.416 with 17 homers and 30 steals, though his walk rate dropped off again. A return engagement in Triple-A this year has resulted in a .310/.357/.467 line, including 26 doubles and nine steals.
Overall, Cozart has hit .270/.332/.421 in 506 minor league games, including.275/.327/.435 in 213 Triple-A contests.
Cozart still draws praise for his glove. He's reliable, makes few mistakes, has a solid arm and enough range to stay at the position long-term. His glove will keep him employed in the majors, but how much regular playing time he gets will depends on the bat. His running speed is average but he gets good jumps and is an effective stealer, with 55 career steals in 67 attempts.
The pop in his bat is legitimate, although (despite his .310 mark this year) this has often come at the expense of his batting average. Reports about his plate discipline are mixed. His walk rate isn't that impressive and I've heard from some sources that minor worries persist about his on-base percentage against major league pitching. On the other hand, Doug Gray posted this detailed scouting summary of Cozart on July 1st at Redsminorleaguers.com and gave a positive in-person report about his strike zone judgment.
In any event, Cozart had nothing left to prove in the minors, and promoting him to the major leagues was the right move. I'm personally on the optimistic side about him, and while I don't expect him to be a star, he should provide solid defense with enough power and speed contributions to stay in the lineup, even without a gaudy batting average.