Name: Sean Kazmar
DOB: August 5, 1984
Kazmar knocked 13 balls out of the park this past season to lead the team after slugging 10 the previous year in Fort Wayne.
His 72 RBIs fell three shy of tying for the team lead with all of his damage coming from the leadoff spot (27 games) or the two-hole (89 games).
Kazmar never was comfortable hitting leadoff. He struggled with being taken out of his element and never adjusted to life outside the two-hole, the requirements to get on base causing him to press. He settled in hitting second, showing solid pitch selection and the ability to drive the ball in the gaps.
Things didn't start off well for Kazmar. He was hitting .226 at the end of June. He broke down his swing about that time with hitting coach Tom Tornicasa and realized a lot of his angst came when he was behind in the count.
Kazmar also admitted that the lack of positive results started to wear on him mentally and it wasn't until he let himself simply play the game that his natural ability came out.
The right-handed hitter also toned down his high leg kick to minimize the movement in his body and swing. The result was a .282 average over 49 games in July and August and an increase in his power numbers – 18 of his 37 extra base hits came during that stretch, including seven home runs.
"It was some of the stuff we have been working on all year and he just understood it then and knows what he needs to do and is doing it," 2006 Lake Elsinore hitting coach Tom Tornicasa said. "He had a high leg kick early in the year and we tried to leave it alone to see how he would work with it but over time we saw it wasn't working for him. We cut that down and he is staying back on the ball better. He doesn't have as much movement in his approach as he did earlier in the year. It started to show up in the last month. He swung the bat real well."
Kazmar prides himself on being a line drive hitter and swears the homers aren't a case of trying to drive the ball. He is a natural pull hitter that hits most of his line drives to left field but he will reach out and pull the ball instead of taking it the other way a bit too often, resulting in easy grounders to shortstop and third base.
His plate discipline has improved each year he has been in the system. After drawing just ten walks over 70 games in his professional debut, Kazmar went back to the drawing board and focused on seeing more pitches. The results were shocking. He drew 44 free passes the following season and 63 with the Lake Elsinore Storm. He is inching ever closer to having more walks than whiffs an accomplished the feat in August with 19 walks to 16 strikeouts.
Kazmar went on to play for the West Oahu CaneFires with the specific goal of continuing his patient approach, seeing as many pitches as he could and trying to hit ones he could handle. The problem is it took some of the aggressiveness away from his game and he found himself behind in just as many counts as he was ahead in. While his walks were up, his average was down.
"I had never seen much of Sean and he played second base and shortstop and did a fine job," 2006 Mobile hitting coach Arnie Beyeler said of Kazmar's time in Hawaii. "He puts the ball in play and can run."
A smart baserunner with average speed, Kazmar reads the pitcher well. His ability to get a good jump led to 10 steals in 11 attempts.
Kazmar had a few more errors on the faster California League surfaces than the Midwest League but his range alone saved runs. The second baseman was athletic enough to make plays deep in the hole and on the outfield grass to the first base side, coming up in position to make a play on the hitter.
His footwork and body control are above average and he gets in trouble when he tries to rush the process. But his runs saved versus errors were a wash given the extra step or two he made that others would struggle with.
"Kaz made some unbelievable plays," third baseman Chase Headley marveled. "It is fun to watch him out there every night."
He was in on 91 double plays – the most amongst California League second basemen – showing a good quick turn and he even made several starts at shortstop, the position he played in college.
"That whole infield saved me plenty of times," starting pitcher Cesar Ramos praised. "I get that ground ball that could find a hole; those guys did their job and especially turning those double plays. Chase (Headley) and Kaz had a good thing going and it definitely helped me as a pitcher."
ETA: Kazmar, 22, is slated for a run at Double-A San Antonio this year. He has made steady progress through the system and should continue if the bat keeps up with his defense. His valiant approach to the passive aggressive approach has put him in a positive light. With age on his side, a late 2008 or early 2009 major league debut is a real possibility.