Spring Surprise? - Tagg You're It

After a freak injury in 2004, when he ruptured his patellar tendon in his left knee while jumping on home plate celebrating a grand slam he hit for the Padres' Triple-A Portland in the PCL, Tagg Bozied is back hoping he may get another chance to celebrate, this time with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Tagg Bozied, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound first baseman, is making the most of his opportunity with the St. Louis Cardinals in spring training.

Signed by St. Louis as a minor league free agent in November, Bozied has impressed everyone, hitting .360 and playing stellar defense at first base and in the outfield for the Cardinals during their first 14 Grapefruit League contests.

A natural third baseman, a position he is the most comfortable with, Bozied can play first base and the corner outfield positions, making him a perfect candidate for a bench role with St. Louis.

Bozied spent the majority of last season playing in the outfield, for the first time in his professional career. Tuesday he got his first start in right field for the Cardinals and will likely see more playing time there this year for Triple-A Memphis or St. Louis if the Cardinals need to call him up.

If Bozied hopes to get a chance to catch on with the Cardinals, his ability to play more than one position is going to be the key to his success. An injury to utilityman Scott Spiezio or one of the Cardinals fourth or fifth outfielders could open the door for Bozied to make his major league debut in 2007.

This spring, Tagg is only one of two players, the other being OF Miguel Negron, who have played in each of the Cardinals' first 14 games. His health issues seem to be light years behind him as his defensive play on the field has been as good as his production at the plate.

The last time Bozied was able to play a full season was back in 2003 for Portland. In 119 games, he got 450 at-bats, hit .273 with 14 home runs and 59 RBIs.

The following season, Bozied seemed to hit his stride and show signs of living up to his potential. In 57 games for the Portland Beavers, he was hitting .315 with 16 home runs and more than half (34) of his 67 hits being for extra bases.

Then just when he appeared destined for the Major Leagues, the slugger suffered a season-ending injury just moments after hitting a game-winning grand slam in the bottom of the ninth to lift the Portland Beavers to a dramatic 8-5 victory over the Tacoma Rainiers.

"It was real scary. I saw my kneecap pushed up into my quadriceps. I thought my career was over," Bozied told the Associated Press. "To go from hitting a walk off home run to being wheeled off the field in an ambulance, it's unbelievable. Guys were hitting me on the helmet, kicking me, congratulating me and I was down in the dog pile. Then one of them saw the look in my eyes and realized I wasn't kidding, that it was serious."

The Padres released Bozied in 2005, after only 14 games into the season. According to Bozied the Padres were concerned about his health, after the season ending knee injury in 2004 and problems with lower back pain that limited him to playing in just 26 games in 2005.

Sources within the Padres organization believed Bozied would have been in the big leagues had he not suffered that injury as he was tearing up the Pacific Coast League with 13 homers and 47 RBIs over his final 43 games with the Beavers that season.

The New York Mets, seeing the raw potential in Bozied, took a chance on him last year, signing him to a minor league contract in April. He hit .256 with eight home runs and 23 RBIs before he was released after 60 games, a move they may soon regret.

The signing of Bozied this winter may pay dividends for St. Louis down the stretch. Playing much better than expected, he obviously has the potential to be an offensive force, as he is blessed with patience, power, and good speed on the basepaths for a big man.

Bozied will likely start the season at Triple-A Memphis, but if he can get healthy and stay hot, he should get a look by the big league club at some point in the second half of the season, certainly when the rosters expand in September.

This spring's biggest surprise? Tagg you are it.

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