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It turns the Padres didn’t have to wait for Chapter II of the Mike Schmidt Hall-of-Fame story to play itself out in 2008 with their own rookie third baseman, Kevin Kouzmanoff.
When Kouzmanoff, acquired in an off-season trade to provide added power to the lineup, struggled to a .113 batting average in April, it was pointed out early and often that Schmidt hit .196 his first full season as the Philadelphia Phillies’ third baseman in 1973. Schmidt went on to hit 548 career home runs.
But Kouzmanoff has hit .317 since the All-Star break and is batting .414 in September. Manager Bud Black has even moved him to the middle of the batting order at times.
“He’s swinging the bat great,” Black said. “I think he’ll be the first to tell you he’s seeing the ball great. He’s not expanding the strike zone. The selectivity is there, and he’s hitting the ball with good solid contact. I think he feels good about his swing and he feels good about coming to the park.”
Kouzmanoff was rumored to be on his way to Triple AAA Portland when he started slowly, but maybe one reason the Padres were patient with him is his baseball personality matches his potential.
“To be honest with you, he’s sort of looked the same way in April as now as far as his disposition,” Black said. “He’s been consistent in personality throughout the entire season. It was only a matter of time before he showed the ability he showed in the minor leagues.”
No one is saying Kouzmanoff is going to write chapters similar to the rest of the Mike Schmidt story, but Padres general manager Kevin Towers appears to have gotten the better end of a deal again.
Towers was criticized for trading second baseman Josh Barfield, a rookie-of-the-year candidate in 2006, for Kouzmanoff’s potential. With Barfield struggling in Cleveland, that complaint seems as distant as Kouzmanoff’s .113 batting average.
— TOM SHANAHAN