Kozma impressing A's in bid to return to MLB

March 12th, 2021

The past five years have not been ideal for .

Once a postseason hero with the Cardinals -- the club he was drafted by as a first-round pick in 2007 and remained with until 2015 -- Kozma has turned into one of baseball’s traveling men. He was released by St. Louis after the ‘15 campaign, setting up a five-year stretch that saw him sign contracts with the Yankees, Rangers, Tigers and Braves. His latest stop: Oakland.

Kozma is in A’s camp on a Minor League deal, marking his fifth organization in five seasons. Facing a situation that would frustrate most, the 32-year-old infielder, who has not played in the Majors since 2018, keeps a positive mindset about the constant change he’s had to deal with in recent years.

“I look at it as, ‘Well, somebody out there still likes me and they keep giving me a job,’” Kozma said. “As long as that keeps happening, I’m not going to get too discouraged. I’m going to go out there and keep playing hard, no matter what.”

The A’s seem to like Kozma plenty, so much that manager Bob Melvin has managed to get the veteran into all 11 Cactus League games the club had played entering Friday. The opportunity has allowed Kozma to prove his worth. He has played multiple infield positions in games and is off to a hot start at the plate, entering Friday tied for the team lead in hits, going 7-for-16 (.438) with a homer, two doubles and five RBIs in 11 games.

“We like him,” Melvin said. “His glove is the thing that you really like, but he’s swinging the bat well. I know he’s made a transformation in what he’s trying to do at the plate. With a new team, you want to get off to a good start and he’s doing that. This is a guy that gives us some depth. It was a good pickup for us.”

That transformation at the plate has been a series of minor tweaks Kozma said he began working on in 2017 as a member of the Yankees.

“It’s been a little bit of a process the last few years,” Kozma said. “It’s been just transitioning certain things here and there. It’s very minor tweaks in just my work, my habits and the everyday routine. Very small adjustments, which I think have helped so far.”

It doesn’t seem like too long ago that a 24-year-old Kozma was coming up clutch for the Cardinals with a go-ahead two-run single in the ninth inning of a National League Division Series-clinching Game 5 win over the Nationals. Those October heroics catapulted him into sticking as the primary shortstop for the Cardinals in 2013, but lackluster numbers at the plate that season led to a demotion in 2014 after the club signed All-Star shortstop Jhonny Peralta.

With Oakland, Kozma has a tough road to making the roster. Signed in November, what once appeared like a good opportunity at shortstop with the departure of Marcus Semien via free agency is now likely closed with the addition of veteran Elvis Andrus. There is second base, however, where the A’s have a few players still vying for regular at-bats, including fellow non-roster invitee Jed Lowrie and utility player Tony Kemp.

Regardless of where the playing time comes, Kozma looks forward to being part of an organization that consistently flies under the radar. The A’s take on an underdog mentality, something he’s also carried with him over the years.

“Everybody was talking about the Yankees and Dodgers, but the A’s almost took the American League last year,” Kozma said. “If everyone is still going to underestimate us, that’s fine by me. We have a lot of good players in this clubhouse. It’s not really up to me where I play, it’s more about just being in the lineup than anything. I can play almost everywhere on the field and have done that. The position doesn’t really matter to me. I’m open to anything.”