With the announcement of the New York Yankees Opening Day roster expected soon, shortstop Pete Kozma may be incorporated into the infield depth chart.When the New York Yankees assigned shortstop prospect Tyler Wade to minor league camp, Ronald Torreyes automatically became the presumed Opening Day starter in place of Didi Gregorius.
It is arguably the right decision, as Wade was clearly not ready to be thrown under the spotlight of the Bronx and Torreyes is a familiar face coming off a season in which he made just one error in 99 innings at shortstop. He’s no Didi, but he’ll get the job done.
With that said, however, an overlooked question comes into play: who’s the backup shortstop? Well, with Torreyes likely earning the nod, Pete Kozma has an elevated chance at cracking the 25-man roster as a reserve.
Rob Refsnyder is in the mix as well for that reserve spot but Kozma can do one thing that the former top prospect can’t — play shortstop.
The 28-year-old hasn’t seen a pitch in the major leagues since October 4, 2015, and owns a career .222/.288/.293 slash line in his five-year career with the St. Louis Cardinals (2011-15). In that span, he owns the second-worst OPS (.581) among major league shortstops who have played in 270 games or more.
But, manager Joe Girardi will turn to him only for his glove just like they did with the shortstop who has the worst OPS among shortstops in that span, Brendan Ryan, who the Yankees employed from 2013-15.
In 1399 career innings at shortstop, Kozma has made just 14 in 734 defensive chances (.981 Fld%). In his only full season in the majors (2013), he finished fifth in fielding percentage (.984), fifth in defensive runs saved (8), owned the fourth-best Ultimate Zone Rating and the seventh-highest defense (Def) rating.
Kozma is just 8-for-36 this spring (.222), but again, he’s not being used for his bat and has been stellar with the glove in Grapefruit League play in 2017. In 36.1 innings at short, he hasn’t made a single error while owning a range factor of 2.22 and even smacked a clutch walk-off single to cap off a 6-5 comeback win over the Toronto Blue Jays last week.
— New York Yankees (@Yankees) March 25, 2017
No, he’s not attractive and probably won’t play a role with New York as a major league player once Gregorius returns, but the Yankees need a backup shortstop and while Starlin Castro can slide over here and there, he won’t have the defensive impact Kozma will.
One thing working against his chances of traveling up North with the big league squad has to be the fact that he’s a non-roster player (not on 40-man). It’s really a non-issue, though, as New York could simply transfer Tyler Austin to the 60-day disabled list to make room.
We’ll continue to reiterate, this isn’t the type of player the Yankees would want to see regular at-bats in the Bronx. But when it comes to a bench piece, especially in the wake of Didi’s injury, Kozma’s defensive capability sets himself apart from the competition.