After an awful knee injury ended his breakout 2015 campaign prematurely, Zack Cozart picked up right where he left off to start 2016. Through his first 50 games, the 31-year-old slashed .303/.332/.532 to go with nine home runs, 32 runs, and 25 RBI atop the Reds' batting order. His production tapered off after that hot start, however, as he batted just .217 over the rest of the season (including a putrid .163/.293/.235 slash line at home). The shortstop's injury issues also crept back into the picture, as he missed time due to thumb and quadriceps ailments while also missing much of September with a knee problem. Cozart has some life in his bat, but it's tough to expect consistent production across an entire season as we simply haven't seen it. The Reds have been looking for a trade partner but so far have had no luck.
Cozart (knee) made his spring training debut Wednesday and homered while going 1-for-3. The Reds are hoping that Cozart can demonstrate he can stay healthy over an extended time period so that they can find a trade suitor. Meanwhile, they have to decide whether he's going to bat second or farther down in the lineup.
Cozart was a healthy scratch from Tuesday's spring training game against the White Sox. Cozart was set to make his spring training debut, but the rains that hit the Phoenix area prior to the game might have encouraged the Reds to remain cautious with him. The Reds reported this as a healthy scratch and not a setback with his knee.
Cozart (knee) won't be in the lineup Friday when the Reds begin spring training games. Instead, he'll likely start Monday or Tuesday next week. This isn't because there are problems with his knee, however. "He's fine. He could play tomorrow," manager Bryan Price said on Thursday. "They want to do some baserunning stuff with him to make sure his legs are conditioned coming off the DL at the end of the year. There's no reason he couldn't play. But why rush it with the length of Spring Training?" Cozart confirmed that his knee is fine and that he's just working on getting his timing back. "There are no issues with me, we're just going to take it slow these first couple of games," Cozart said. "It was weird yesterday, we were doing that 27 outs [drill] and hitting and running out of the box, and having some game action on the field. It's just a whole different thing on your body. I'm ready for it. I told Bryan, physically, I feel great. I'm ready. We play a lot of games. I don't need to play 30 games or whatever we've got. I'll get my timing down."
Cozart (knee) said his knee is 100 percent and added he won't need to wear a brace in 2017, Mark Sheldon of MLB.com reports. This is apparently the first time his knee is at 100 percent since injuring it in 2015, so this could be big news for Cozart, who is coming off one of the better seasons of his career before being shut down in September. The 31-year-old hit a career-high 16 homers last season while posting a .733 OPS, and he'll look to build on those numbers as the regular shortstop for the Reds in 2017.
Cozart avoided arbitration with the Reds, agreeing to a one-year, $5.325 million deal. The Reds have dangled Cozart's name in trade talks this offseason but haven't made any tangible progress. They still need to find a way to make room for both Jose Peraza and Dilson Herrera to play, but both Cozart and Brandon Phillips remain ahead of them respectively.