Kouz, Eckstein for Gold Gloves? …

Greetings from Milwaukee, where Kevin Kouzmanoff and David Eckstein started the day leading the Major Leagues at their respective positions in fielding percentage. Here’s a look at my story on Kouzmanoff’s defense improvement since coming to the Padres before the 2007 season.

Kevin Kouzmanoff, Gold Glove candidate? The number of errors and fielding percentage the Padres’ third baseman has in 2009 certainly show that he should be, at the very least, in the discussion for the holy grail of awards for fielders.

Kouzmanoff’s manager, Bud Black, agreed Tuesday with the assertion that Kouzmanoff is having, by far, his best defensive season since coming to the Padres during the winter of 2006 from the Cleveland Indians.

“Absolutely,” Black said when asked if he thought Kouzmanoff was playing Gold Glove caliber defense. “We’re seeing every play is being made … and by that I mean the ball in the hole he’s making, the ball down the line, the chopper he has to charge and take with his bare hand, the throw to second on a double play, the throws from different angles … he’s making them all.”

Kouzmanoff went into Monday’s game against the Brewers at Miller Park with the best fielding percentage of any Major League third baseman (.988) and the fewest errors (3). That’s an improvement from what Black considered a good defensive showing by his third baseman last season when Kouzmanoff ranked third in the National League in fielding percentage (.974, 13 errors).

“I think there’s room for improvement,” Kouzmanoff said. “I’ve come a long ways from where I was, but I’m not satisfied.”

This from a player who ranked 12th among NL third basemen in 2007, his first full year with the Padres, in fielding percentage (.932). Kouzmanoff had 22 errors in his rookie season, which didn’t dispel the notion that defense was his obvious weakness when the Padres traded Josh Barfield to the Indians for him.

“I’m very proud of him. He takes a lot of pride in what he’s doing out there and he really wants to take that part of his game to another level,” said Padres third-base coach Glenn Hoffman, who works with the Padres infielders. “He wants to be in the right position, his reactions are good.

“It’s just fun to watch the way he’s progressed. I think it’s the throwing … the accuracy end of it is where he’s improved most. The quickness when he gets off-balance, he’s still able to make that throw.”

Kouzmanoff, who entered Monday’s game hitting .246 with 14 home runs and 60 RBIs, said he considers his defense as equally important than anything he does at the plate even if, from a fan perspective at least, defense often takes a backseat to offense.

“I’m happy it’s improved. I want to help the team and help the pitchers out. That’s our job, to play defense. I do like Glenn [Hoffman]; he’s a great resource,” Kouzmanoff said. “It’s important to have both sides of the game. If I’m not hitting, at least I can play defense. You can’t take your offense with you on the field.”

Cheers, Corey
MLB.com, Padres. com

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