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The Angels already had one of the best defensive shortstops in Andrelton Simmons, but general manager Billy Eppler saw an opportunity for a team that missed the postseason by just five games in 2017. Eppler signed Zack Cozart, a lifelong shortstop, to a three-year, $39 million deal last month and informed him he’d be moving to third base.
“I played second base for maybe five games in low-A ball,” Cozart told MLB Network’s Hot Stove on Thursday, “but I’ve definitely never played third.”
It’s easy to see why Los Angeles was interested in taking the gamble. Cozart, 32, is coming off a career season with the Reds in which he compiled a .297 average and .933 OPS to go with 24 home runs and 63 RBIs in 122 games. Cozart also displayed plenty of range, ranking seventh among Major League shortstops in ultimate zone rating (UZR). Third base will present new challenges for Cozart, who’s already envisioning the different point of view he’ll have at the hot corner.
“The angles are so much different,” said Cozart, “even throwing to second base and the way the ball comes off the bat. It’s all different.”
Cozart has already reached out to former Gold Glove Award-winning third baseman Eric Chavez, a special assistant to Eppler in the Angels’ front office, and his former Reds teammate Scott Rolen for advice. Eppler also emphasized to Cozart that the Angels will employ plenty of shifts that can position him back toward familiar territory at short.
At the plate, Cozart’s bat figures to add another dimension to an Angels’ lineup that suddenly looks a lot more potent. The Angels signed Justin Upton to a new five-year, $106 million contract right after the World Series, acquired Ian Kinsler from the Tigers in a trade and signed Japanese two-way star Shohei Ohtani. Throw in Albert Pujols and perennial MVP Award candidate Mike Trout, and Cozart’s new club looks formidable on paper.
“It’s tough to beat playing with Joey Votto, but now I’m going to the Angels and probably the best player in the world is on the team,” Cozart said of Trout, “and I played against Albert early on when he was on the Cardinals, so I know how good he can be.”
It’s shaping up to be an exciting year for Cozart and the Angels, though one thing remains uncertain: The dwelling spot for his newest family member. The donkey that Votto bought for Cozart last summer, Donald (named for his son’s favorite cartoon character Donald Duck), is still in Cincinnati but could be on the move soon.
“He’s not coming to L.A., that’s for sure,” Cozart said. “I was waiting to see what would happen this offseason, but now I can go and look for a nice piece of land for old Donald.”