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Kevin Kouzmanoff
Tom Verducci
March 26, 2007
THE HISTORY MAKER
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March 26, 2007

Kevin Kouzmanoff

THE HISTORY MAKER

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CASEY BLAKE issued a disclaimer to his new Indians teammate Kevin Kouzmanoff last Sept. 2, after the 25-year-old Kouzmanoff became the first player to hit the first pitch he saw in the big leagues for a grand slam. "Hey, Kouz," Blake said to him in the dugout, after the blast off Rangers righthander Edinson Volquez, "it's not that easy up here all the time."

Hitting has never been a problem for Kouzmanoff at any level. In 349 minor league games the third baseman hit .332 with a .395 on-base percentage, and the Padres gave up an every-day second baseman who hit .280 in the big leagues at age 23, Josh Barfield, on the assumption that Kouzmanoff will continue to pound pitching in the bigs. General manager Kevin Towers believes that Kouzmanoff has a bigger upside than Barfield does, and "good third basemen are harder to find than [good] second basemen."

Of the trade Kouzmanoff says, "I was shocked. I didn't see it coming. You're with one team for a while, and then all of a sudden, it's a weird feeling, like going to a new high school. But there's a great opportunity for me here."

The Padres' faith in veteran Vinny Castilla last season went unrewarded, leaving San Diego with the second-worst batting average (.230), fewest RBIs (60) and fewest runs (68) out of the third base position among all 30 teams. Despite an odd stroke in which he appears to hide his hands behind his back shoulder while loading them, Kouzmanoff could provide a significant upgrade on those numbers. "He's a little like Chad Tracy," Towers says of the Diamondbacks' talented fourth-year third baseman. "Maybe not the flashiest guy, but he can flat hit."

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