After a breakout year in 2017, the LA Angels signed Zack Cozart to a three-year, $38 million contract. Last year, he suffered a torn labrum early in the season. He should be healthy for 2019, but should the Angels trust him as their starter?
For the LA Angels, the pressure is on. Unless they extend Mike Trout this offseason, the clock will be ticking on his two remaining years in Anaheim. 2019 matters a lot, and the team needs to do everything within their power to contend next year without mortgaging the future.
So what do they do with Zack Cozart?
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It is a small sample size, but Cozart was relatively disappointing last year. After slashing .297/.385/.548 in 2017, he fell off dramatically to start his Angels career. His .219 batting average was the lowest of his career, and his on-base-plus-slugging percentage was the second worst of his career. Nevertheless, the Halos seem content to let him be their Opening Day starter come April.
Whether or not the Angels are correct in doing so is the question at hand. Sure, Cozart was awful last year. However, the sample size was incredibly small. He only took 224 at-bats while most experts consider 300 at-bats the bare minimum when evaluating a player. Cozart was also learning a new position all offseason as he transferred from shortstop to third base, so his offensive game likely took a backseat over the offseason.
While that is no excuse, Cozart still offers potential as an above-average third baseman. On top of that, his best offense came when he was playing second base, so a possible platoon option between the two positions may be possible.
Inside the organization, the only real competition Cozart has at third base is Taylor Ward. Ward showed some potential in 2018, and will be sharpening his tools in an offseason league. If he shows up to Spring Training with a hot bat, Cozart may be in trouble.
In terms of going outside the organization, the Angels may be better off avoiding third base and focusing their funds elsewhere. With Ward and Cozart available, betting on one of them to take hold of the job in 2019 might be a bet worth making. Overall, Zack Cozart may seem like the obvious choice to be the Opening Day third baseman, and while the job is likely his to lose, it is far from a guarantee he gets the nod.