Yadier Molina is a star. No scratch that — he is a superstar. Widely acclaimed as the game’s best catcher, Molina delivers the leadership, defense and hitting that may one day send him to Cooperstown. Molina was always a magnificent defensive catcher; in fact he was so good that then St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa, recognizing the unique skill-set the young prospect possessed, once told him he could go zero for the season and he would still start.
Hard worker that Molina is, he made himself into one of the most feared hitters in the National League by refining his footwork and sharpening his pitch selection. Where would the Cardinals be had LaRussa not had the foresight to stick with his young backstop? What if they would have panicked and signed better hitting catcher? This is relevant because the much maligned SS Pete Kozma is in a similar stage of his development when compared to Molina of years ago. An accomplished glove man, Kozma has been swinging what might be charitably termed a spaghetti noodle at the plate since his arrival two summers ago.
Yet Kozma has shown flashes of batting ability. In 2010, he slugged 13 homers and knocked in 72 in AA Springfield, so somewhere in that lithe frame some pop exists. Worth noting too, is that in 2006, Molina batted only .216 in a season that would culminate in the club’s 10th World Championship. From that point on, however, he steadily improved, year by year. By 2008 he was a .304 hitter and has since gone on to bat over .300 three more times. He is now regularly posting plus .800 OPS seasons, so clearly it can be done. And while this may seem a moot point with the club’s signing of Jhonny Peralta, one must remember a second PED misstep and he is done for the season.
Also, Kozma would not even be the first Cardinals shortstop to turn his presence at the plate from a liability to an asset. There was once another SS, who while known for his glove, steadily made himself an offensive presence to the point where between his contact ability and speed accumulated more Baseball Reference oWAR than dWAR. That is of course, Ozzie Smith, the one and only Wizard. Will St. Louis yet see another glove wizard perform magic at Busch?
For it to happen, the Wizard of Koz will have to turn into a Batman. But with the risk of Peralta turning into The Joker, anything is possible. Especially in a place called Baseball Heaven.