Missions' second baseman Sean Kazmar has as much talent as anyone in the organization, the challenge for him is to not just demonstrate it on a given night, week or month, but for the season.
The converted shortstop was selected in the fifth-round of the 2004 draft out of Southern Nevada Community College and has more range than most second baseman, a strong arm and a truly unique ability to chase down fly balls into the outfield.
"He is the best second baseman that I've ever had play behind me," said Missions starting pitcher Sean Thompson.
At 5-foot-10, 180-pounds he's not the biggest guy on the field, but last year in Lake Elsinore he hit 13 home runs and drove in 72 runs to go along with a .250/.327/.376 line. He's not going to blow anyone away with these offensive numbers, but he has shown the ability to come up with a big hit and has put together good months, which have been offset by long offensive slumps in between.
This year he's again been able to get the big hit, he's fourth on the team with 20 RBIs, and playing his customary flashy defense, but he's going to have to improve upon his consistency at the plate with .231 batting average and a .297 on-base percentage [statistics through Monday, May 14].
When the Padres drafted you they switched you over to second base from shortstop. You seem very comfortable at second or are you still a shortstop at heart?
Sean Kazmar: I'll always have playing shortstop in the back of my mind; it's kind of like a running joke now. Most guys in the minor leagues were either shortstops or pitchers at one time, but I feel very comfortable at second and know that is my primary position and best chance to make the major leagues.
Defensively there is not a whole lot to say, because you have always been regarded as one of the best defensive infielders in the system. Offensively has been more up and down. Is there any idea why your offense varies so much because you have shown a lot of ability at times?
[Laughing] We're not trying to pick on you.
Sean Kazmar: No, no absolutely not, it's the truth. A big thing is its just trying to be consistent. Sometimes I'll hit the ball hard and they just don't fall, other times everything seems to fall. It just seems that my slumps tend to go a little more than others. I'm just trying to stay focused and keep hitting balls hard which is what I want to do. Tom Tournincasa, [the hitting coach at Lake Elsinore last year, and this year's hitting coach with San Antonio] and I have really been working hard on staying on top of the ball.
With you it always seems like the power you have shown sometimes is both a blessing and a curse. You joked one time that you have ‘just enough power to get in trouble'. You're an aggressive hitter and you're going to hit balls hard, but at the same time you're going after pitches early in the count so you're not going to get as many walks.
Sean Kazmar: You can go 0-4 and hit the ball three times hard right at someone, and the only one who really knows what you did at the end of the day is the people that were there and who read the reports. You can also get a couple of dink hits that will get you out of slumps too. I'm not going out there and trying to flare one over the second baseman. I'm going up there and trying to hit the ball hard and get on base for the team.
You always seem to hit the ball better with runners on base. The last month at Lake Elsinore you were one of the team leaders in RBIs and even this year your average is much higher with runners on base. Any reason behind that?
Sean Kazmar: I feel that I might bear down a little more. I got on third base a couple of games ago with a triple, I think I was one for five in the game, and I looked up at [Randy] Ready [the manager of the Missions] and told him that was probably the only at-bat that I was zoned in for the whole game. It was a tie ball game at that point and it was good to do that, but I want and need to do that with every at-bat. I'm trying to focus more with every at-bat, the numbers aren't showing it, but I can see the improvement. I know how I'm doing it and trying to change it, so I'm not going to let it bother me. The season is still early to start throwing helmets, not that I do that.
Hey, everyone gets mad.
Sean Kazmar: Yeah, I know baseball is tough. It's almost a game of failure just from the numbers standpoint. It's all about how you handle it mentally.
When we spoke to you a few years ago in Fort Wayne you spoke about how good it was to have Randy Ready as your manager since he was a former major league middle infielder. How much has it helped this year?
Sean Kazmar: Each lineup we gauge he sits down with the middle infielders, really everyone, he lets me know you need to play this guy to pull, this guy straight up – and if something changes I'll let you know. He's got a lot of years in the big leagues so whatever he says I really try to take in.
It's easy for someone like us to sit in the press box and write that you need to be more consistent, but if you're playing second base you have to be in the game for every pitch, for every game for every at-bat for a 140 game season. Then you have daily practices, roving instructors, weights and so on. How do you improve your concentration or trying to be constantly focused when most people have trouble concentrating for half that time at their job?
Sean Kazmar: That is just how it is. It's just like an everyday job hours wise, which for us is close to nine to ten hours a day. Fortunately, we get to play baseball, which is something that all of us love to do and is what we always wanted to do. You have to go out there every day and work hard, but that is what we all grew up wishing for. The whole thing of making it to the major leagues is what gets you up in the morning; it's what gets me up. I love coming to the ball field, there is no other place that I would rather be. I think that is what the beauty of it is for everyone here.
So you can see progress in how far you've come with the mental aspect of the game?
Sean Kazmar: Absolutely. I can remember in short-season that when I was struggling and striking out so much and beating myself up so much. After spring training and instructs and watched the older guys play, of course you get mad that is part of the game, but the way they handled themselves was impressive and what I tried to copy.
Right now I haven't gotten on track, but last night I made a pretty good catch which saved some runs and a big knock that brought one in, so I was pretty happy with that in my mind.
It's just what you have to do every day, keep grinding.