A first-round pick, the 18th overall selection in the 2007 draft, Kozma is a career .236 hitter in the minors but developed a more direct, firmer swing late last season. He was hitting .232 at Triple-A Memphis when he was promoted to the Cardinals following Furcal's injury.
“I joked with him: ‘I guess Triple-A pitching is better than the big leagues,'” Turner said. “He proved he can do it. Obviously it had to give him some confidence. He can play defense. I think he'll be fine. He just needed an opportunity.”
Kozma still lives in Owasso during the offseason. This past winter. He worked with a personal trainer in addition to numerous workouts with other Tulsa-area pro players at Oral Roberts University.
He solidified his grasp on the starting job by hitting .340 this spring. He'll get an extended look. But if Kozma struggles it's a position the Cardinals might look to upgrade near the July 31 trading deadline.
“Last season is in the past,” Kozma said. “It's something I can definitely look back at and say, ‘Hey, I did that.' But it's in the past. I have to look forward.”
The Cardinals showed confidence in Kozma when they released veteran Ronny Cedeno late in training camp. St. Louis had brought in Cedeno to compete with Kozma after Furcal was informed he would need surgery.
“We have a very strong offense,” Matheny said. “It may not be a 25- or 30-home run guy at that spot. It's doing the little things right and making plays.”
Solid defensive play, showing perseverance, are attributes Kozma displayed during 671 minor league games. He compiled nearly 2,500 minor league at bats to methodically work his way through the Cardinals system.
“Pete was on the verge,” Turner said. “He had gotten to the point he either had to produce or they probably were going to release him. It was unfortunate for Furcal to get hurt, but that's how breaks are made sometimes. Pete had a great run there at the end. Now he's looking to build on that.”