Sitting in a conference room in the inner confines of Busch Stadium, the epicenter of this first pick, stunned reporters immediately began asking the $64,000.00 question.
Who is Pete Kozma?
You have to give the Cardinals credit, it didn't take long for the Cardinals Emergency Management Agency, (CEMA), to kick into action. Information, considered propaganda at the time, about Pete Kozma was made immediately available to the media, in the team of Jeff Luhnow vice president of amateur scouting and player development, the resident spin doctor on duty for the draft, along his faithful companion and scout, Steve Gossett.
We soon learned that Kozma was an All-American from Owasso High School in Owasso, Oklahoma. He finished his senior season with team-bests in batting average (.522), runs (56), RBI (55) and home runs (11), and when the pressure was on; he delivered with a three-homer game in the Oklahoma state 6-A playoffs to lead his high school to a state title. His solo home run was the only run scored in the 1-0 championship win.
The Owasso High School championship run, netted Kozma some accolades and honors as well; he was named the Gatorade Player of the Year for the state of Oklahoma and was voted the Rawlings High School Gold Glove shortstop for 2007. In addition he was named to the Louisville Slugger High School All American team and was a second-team All-American.
At this point I was beginning to become a little embarrassed that I didn't know Pete Kozma, I'm glad they weren't trying to sell me the Gateway Arch, I would have probably wrote them of check, of course it would have bounced.
I must confess that I was not initially enamored this pick and the explanations that follow. I kept waiting for President George Walker Bush, a former baseball executive himself, to come into the Cardinals conference room and put his on Luhnow's shoulders to say, "Luhni, you're doing a heckuva job"
I was on the verge of being convinced, sold if you will on Kozma, but I needed that quantitative analysis, from a sabermetrician, giving that me fascinating conglomeration of statistical breakdown, to justify this unexpected pick. Now I actually wouldn't understand their argument, in fact I would have that deer in the headlights look, while trying to pretend that I knew what they were talking about. It all seems too arcane and bizarre to think that is how you pick a ballplayer. Isn't there a simpler way, and then bless their hearts, the faithful companion and scout, gave it to me;
"The one thing that stuck out in my mind about Pete is you look in his eyes and you see a kid that you really feel is going to play in the big leagues," said Steve Gossett, who scouted Kozma. "He's got a look that you don't see in many guys."
Apparently for baseball executives, past and present, this look in the eye thing carries a lot of weight when making critical decisions.
The Cardinals first round pick didn't get off to a quick start in his professional career. He didn't sign until almost August and then he hit a combined .233/.313/.342 in 42 games between the GCL Cardinals, Johnson City in the Appalachian League, and Batavia in the New York-Penn League.
Kozma's initial struggles with the bat carried over to the field where he committed 22 errors in just 42 games for a .874 fielding percentage.
With his first professional season, albeit a short one, under his belt, Kozma had done very little to ease the doubt and disbelief of those who thought that he was unworthy of being a first round pick.
Despite the rough start in his professional career, Kozma was ranked #16 in the Birdhouse's Annual Top 40 Prospect Rankings. Scout.com's Kevin Ehinger's scouting report this week would suggest that perhaps the Cardinals were justified in taking Kozma in the first round after all.
Scout.com Scouting Report - Kevin Ehinger, Scout
He has a patient approach and uses all fields. His swing has a short load and his path to the ball is short and quick.
Defensively, Pete showed very good range to his left and right, quick hands, and a strong arm. He has a quick, effortless DP turn, and recently he nearly turned a DP bare-handed from a late throw after a botched textbook 4-6-3, double-play.
Pete is an exciting young player. He has an above average arm, good feet, good speed, a patient approach, the ability to use all fields, and he DOES have power (although probably just to pull right now). As he fills out, there is no reason to think that he won't develop power to all fields.
The Cardinals are sold on Kozma's athleticism and his mental makeup. He has opened the season on a roll, playing solid defense and has hit safely in nine of his last 10 ballgames, and safely in 13 of 17 this season—including eight multi-hit games already. He plays hard and plays the game right and through the first month of the season he's converting more believers than a Billy Graham crusade, including me.
While we are singing Kozma's praises, perhaps we could pray for another Kozmic quake or two in the next June draft, as we've witness this week, you can never have too many quality shortstops.
A new believer
The check for the Arch is in the mail.
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