Name: Sean Kazmar
DOB: August 5, 1984
On May 31, Kazmar was hitting .198. It was double vision from a season ago. But – before we go there, a bit of history is necessary.
A fifth-round pick in 2004, Kazmar showed pop in his first year but didn't have a whole lot of patience at the dish. The transition to the wood bat changed his swing and his strike zone widened, leading to a 9-to-55 walk-to-strikeout rate.
A year later, he came in well prepared, showing he had learned strike zone awareness, drawing 44 walks compared to 69 strikeouts. He also clubbed 36 extra base hits for the Wizards.
A solid season in Lake Elsinore followed in 2007. He drew 63 walks and drove in 72 runs for the Storm.
Moving up to Double-A was the true test. Kazmar spent 78 games floundering with San Antonio, hitting just .208 while drawing only 24 walks. Lost confidence swelled to great heights before he regained his footing late in the year at High-A.
Heading back to Double-A for 2008 was supposed to be a piece of cake. Unfortunately, it was anything but. Kazmar received a few pep talks along the way and finally broke out of the funk in June. There is no telling how close he was to ultimately being sent back down a second time.
"It was mechanical, so we talked a little bit," former Double-A hitting coach and current San Antonio manager Terry Kennedy said. "He had worked all winter by going to right field and he was doing well with it. He was getting so tied up on the inner half because he was looking so much right field that we moved him around more toward the middle."
"This is a guy that was hitting under .200 in the first two months of the season," former San Antonio manager Bill Masse said. "To be honest with you, not playing very good defense.
"He just completely did a 180. I challenged him a little bit on some different issues, and he rose to the occasion."
Across 26 June games, Kazmar hit .356 – netting one hit less than he did over his first 48 games. Kazmar batted .314 after his .198 start and used that – and solid defense at shortstop – to propel him straight to the big leagues.
"I don't know why I want to continue to love this little guy, but I've always believed that he can play," Fuson said. "He just hasn't been able to put all of his talent together into a consistent performance offensively yet; defensively he's been pretty good.
Kazmar had a hit off C.C. Sabathia in his major league debut and went on to hit .205 across 19 games with the Padres.
"He has the ability to be a good hitter, use the whole park and has enough strength to hit with some power," Fuson said. "This year, for the first two months, he was rattling around .190, and it was a testament to his character that he kept grinding until he turned around. He got called up to San Diego when Khalil [Greene] went down because we needed some depth.
"He's made some strides this year and with a lot of these guys, you just never know when that light is going to go on. We couldn't get him into the [Arizona] Fall League as a regular shortstop, so we gave him some more looks at different positions so that we can increase his chances to be in the majors."
The Georgia native was sent to the Arizona Fall League where he could learn to play the outfield – adding more versatility to his utility belt. He performed well until committing a pair of errors in one game. It was the last time he saw the outfield.
Kazmar is at his best when he maintains a line drive stroke and doesn't lift the ball. He is short to the ball but can get loopy in his swing – topping them instead of hitting the ball with consistent backspin.
"He has a very good pull stroke, but we don't want him to dominate that way because he has a tendency to fly out," Kennedy said. "So, we kept him up the middle thinking hitting the ball between the second baseman and the shortstop, the biggest hole in the field is up the middle. I think that freed him up a little. It freed up his hips and his body rotation and he just started getting the hang of it and he started going off."
He will put too much pressure on himself, especially with runners on base. The infielder believes he has to knock the runners in and will swing at pitches he would normally shy away from.
When the bases are empty, Kazmar is more relaxed and lets the game come to him – allowing the ball to travel further to pick up on the spin and reacting to where a pitch is thrown.
Taking more pitches remains a key component to his future success. The approach should also stay the same, regardless of the situation.
"You see more veteran guys that know how to throw a breaking ball a little bit better, he struggled with that early on," Masse said. "It was actually towards the end of the year that he became a pretty good breaking ball hitter. Offensively, he obviously improved."
At shortstop, Kazmar struggled defensively out of the gate, likely affected by his poor performance at the dish. As the season progressed, he became surer of himself and made all the necessary plays.
After committing 14 errors over the first two months, the UNLV alumnus erred just four times over the final three months. He has solid range up the middle, sets his feet well and shows good balance when making throws. Kazmar possesses a strong, accurate arm and is fluid in turning the double play.
"Defensively, he improved tremendously," Masse said. "He was always a guy that was labeled as a guy that could field. The first couple of months, a lot of it was due to the fact that he wasn't hitting, so I think his defense lapsed a little bit the first couple of months. Now, he's one of the better shortstops I've seen. He gets tremendous jumps off of the ball, both ways, right and left. He's got very good instincts. He knows when he needs to get rid of it; he knows when he needs to take his time. He's got a pretty good idea of who's at bat, who's hitting, speed of the ball, speed of the runner, all of that kind of good stuff we talk about, he's got a pretty good idea about that."
"He can play short," roving infield coordinator Gary Jones said. "He has the quickness, the range and the arm. He's doing outstanding defensively.
"Sometimes we put timetables on guys, and we want it to fit ours, and it doesn't always work that way. Sometimes, it may take someone longer than what you think to get to the big leagues, but even if they get there later, they can still have a productive big league career."
Conclusion: Kazmar's ability to play second base and shortstop is a boon to his future as a utility man. He plays both equally well. If he can add outfield to the mix, Kazmar value goes up even more.
Ultimately, his sustained fate will be tied to the bat. He has shown he can buy into the approach but needs to do so consistently. Kazmar has pop in his bat. The more pitches he sees, the more evident that will become.
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