Phillips, Cozart make for dynamic duo up middle
Double-play tandem should give Reds stability in the field and lineup
This is Part 3 of MLB.com's Around the Horn series of stories on the 2013 Reds. In focus: middle infielders.
CINCINNATI -- Try to count the number of shortstops Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips has partnered with over the years, and you'd run out of fingers and toes.
Phillips has had roughly two dozen double-play partners since his arrival in 2006.
"I've told people, 'Maybe it's just me.' I'm still here," Phillips joked.
Heading into 2013, stability reigns in Cincinnati's middle infield, as Phillips and shortstop Zack Cozart show all the signs of being a lasting combination.
Phillips, 31, was signed last April to a six-year, $72.5 million deal that lasts through 2017. During this offseason, the Reds moved their top shortstop prospect, Billy Hamilton, to center field and traded another prospect in Didi Gregorius to Arizona.
"It was tough trading Gregorius, but we feel we have a shortstop in Cozart for a number of years," Reds general manager Walt Jocketty said. "And we're set at second base for a number of years."
Cozart, 27, turned 68 double plays last season, tied for seventh among shortstops in the National League, while Phillips was seventh among second basemen with 73. Individually, Phillips is a two-time Gold Glove Award winner known for making spectacular highlight plays. He committed only five errors all season and had a career-best 84-game errorless streak.
Not only can Cozart make the routine play, but he also has the range to make brilliant ones as well. While he did make 14 errors, Cozart was ranked third among NL shortstops with a .975 fielding percentage and seventh with a 2.0 defensive wins above replacement (WAR) rating.
"One thing about me and Cozy is we communicate and work real hard," Phillips said. "We always go to early work -- at least two times together each week -- just turning double plays and talking about certain things."
Offensively, Phillips batted .281 with 18 home runs and 77 RBIs during a 2012 season in which he was moved around the lineup out of necessity. He batted leadoff, third and cleanup, depending on the situation.
With newly acquired Shin-Soo Choo set to bat first and Joey Votto expected to be back healthy and batting third, Phillips is a good bet to bat second in manager Dusty Baker's lineup.
"Brandon will be successful wherever you put him," Jocketty said. "He's a good athlete. But he has a chance to be very successful batting between Choo and Joey. He'll be surrounded by hitters that can help him flourish."
Cozart batted .246 with 15 home runs, 33 doubles and 35 RBIs last season. His homer total was the most in franchise history by a rookie shortstop and the most by a rookie shortstop in the Majors since Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki hit 24 homers in 2007. But his on-base percentage was only .288.
"The coolest thing for me is I think I got the respect of my teammates," Cozart said in December. "They know I can go out there and help them win, that was key. As a rookie, you're always trying to prove yourself to your teammates and the fans. I think I did that pretty well and I'm looking forward to getting to Spring Training."
Baker has long professed a desire to have a true shortstop on the bench as a defensive backup. Last season, it was Wilson Valdez, and Edgar Renteria in 2011. For 2013, the Reds signed veteran shortstop Cesar Izturis to a Minor League contract. Izturis, who turns 33 on Feb. 10, is a lifetime .255 hitter over 12 Major League seasons. He spent last season with the Nationals and Brewers, batting .241 in 62 games.
In the same three-team trade that brought Choo from the Indians and sent Gregorius to the D-backs, the Reds also acquired utility player Jason Donald. In his three big league seasons, Donald has played 73 games at shortstop and 68 games at second base. He's a .257 career hitter but batted only .202 last season.
One Reds prospect with most of his experience at second base is Henry Rodriguez, who was a September callup last season. Rodriguez, a switch-hitter, batted .282 combined for Double-A Pensacola and Triple-A Louisville last season. His bat is well-liked in the organization.
Another player who will be in the mix during camp in former Giants utility player Emmanuel Burriss, who was signed by Cincinnati to a Minor League deal. Burriss has logged 183 games at second base during his five-year big league career and 62 games at shortstop. He's a lifetime .243 hitter that batted .213 in 60 games last season.