With Cozart joining Angels infield, the defense never rests
By MIKE TULUMELLO
TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) The Los Angeles Angels are all about defense.
And by signing Zack Cozart, an All-Star shortstop with Cincinnati last year, to a three-year $38 million deal in the offseason they might now have baseball's best defensive infield.
For the Angels, Cozart will play third base. He joins two reigning Gold Glove winners in shortstop Andrelton Simmons and catcher Martin Maldonado. Then there's second baseman Ian Kinsler, who won the award in the American League in 2016 and was a finalist last year.
"We're going to be good defensively," Cozart said. "It's going to be fun."
At the plate, Cozart could be the unusual major leaguer who blossoms in his late 20s or early 30s, a path blazed bythe likes of Daniel Murphy and Justin Turner.
In seven years with the Reds, he hit .254 with a .716 OPS.
But last year, at age 31, Cozart earned his first All-Star appearance last year by putting together a career season. He finished with a .297 average with 24 homers, 63 RBIs.
Cozart credits a simple adjustment. He used to hold his hands high in his batting stance, which he believes led to over-thinking in his approach to hitting.
"It used to mess with my rhythm a lot," he said. "It was tough for me to synch up with the pitcher."
Last spring, he decided to simply put the bat on his shoulder, which he believes simplified his approach.
"If felt really weird at first," he said.
Then in his first at bat last spring, he hit a home run.
"I thought, `Man it can't be that easy, right?'" he said. "I took it into the year. I got more and more comfortable with it. It just took off."
Manager Mike Scioscia said Cozart has the look of "a guy who is coming into his own."
"It's a great sign when a player improves with age and he uses that experience to make some adjustments and become more consistent, particularly on the offensive end of his game," he said.
His experience at shortstop is a big plus because he is expected to play the position when Simmons needs a break. This is especially important considering the Angels will have a thin position-player bench because they will carry six starting pitchers and seven relievers.
"If you have guys on the team who are versatile and not one-dimensional - on defense especially - it makes it a lot easier on the manager," Cozart said.
Cozart chose the Angels after the club re-signed Justin Upton then persuaded Japanese pitcher-hitter Shohei Ohtani to join them. In Cozart's mind, this meant the Angels wanted to win.
"That was most important at this point in my career," he said.
Cozart got to play in the postseason in his first two full seasons with the Reds (2012-13), but the team declined thereafter.
"The last four years weren't so good," he said. "I wanted to get back to the playoffs."
NOTES: Ohtani is set to start the Angels' spring home opener Saturday afternoon vs. Milwaukee. Ohtani threw a bullpen session on Thursday. . Nick Tropeano is scheduled to start the Angels' opener Friday in Mesa against Oakland. Tropeano, competing for the final spot in the six-man rotation, missed all of 2017 after undergoing Tommy John surgery in August 2016.
Updated February 22, 2018