Kouzmanoff cornering nuances of third
Padres pleased with progress of their unconventional fielder
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Kevin Kouzmanoff will be the first to admit that there's nothing really sexy about fielding a ground ball or making a throw to first base, no matter the degree of difficulty.
"The fans want to see home runs or they want to see the ball hit hard," the Padres' third baseman said. "At the same time, you have got to play defense. I think that it's as important as offense."
Much like his offense in 2007, Kouzmanoff's defense was a work in progress during his rookie season. There were days when he looked good while other days he looked like a rookie trying to find his way.
Kouzmanoff committed the fourth-most errors (22) in the National League (22) among third basemen and had a .932 fielding percentage that ranked ahead of only Ryan Braun of Milwaukee (.895), though neither number particularly concerns the Padres.
Why? They feel Kouzmanoff had a lot on his plate in 2007. His struggles offensively in the first month and half of the season are well chronicled. But through all those difficult times at the plate, Kouzmanoff never let if affect his defense.
"That showed a lot of poise," said third-base coach Glenn Hoffman, who been working close with Kouzmanoff on his defense since Spring Training a year ago.
The Padres expect Kouzmanoff to be better defensively in 2008 for several reasons, one being he'll be more comfortable with opposing hitters in the National League. His work with Hoffman on several facets of defense, the Padres say, will be evident.
"It's non-stop every day, working with Glenn," Kouzmanoff said. "He's been great about defense. I am constantly asking him what he sees and what I should be working on. It's a never-ending process."
Among the things the Padres are working on with Kouzmanoff this spring are footwork, being quicker to the ball and taking better angles on ground balls. And in regards to his throwing motion, the Padres want him to keep his back shoulder up to more or less keep his throws on a line over the diamond.
Kouzmanoff has been told by others that his throwing style is "ugly," to which he shrugs. Most of his errors last season came on throws and Padres manager Bud Black admitted that his motion is a bit unorthodox, but it works more often than not.
"I thought defensively ... he was fine," Black said. "If you see him in a short time, like a lot of scouts might and they have to evaluate how he looks defensively, he doesn't have the classic throwing motion. How he fields isn't classic.
"But, for him, it's the natural way he plays. It's effective for him. He does have a quick release when he needs to. The ball has carry on it and the ball has proper spin on it. He does a lot of things right."
And, in Hoffman's estimation, at least, he'll continue to do a lot of those "right" things while moving forward in his career.
"He's continued to build confidence from Spring Training of last year," Hoffman said. "He knows the hitters and baserunners better now and which guys are going to bunt. ... He's just going to get better."
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.