Kozma's versatility his most valuable asset

Utility player fielded three positions in Sunday game vs. Cards

Kozma's versatility his most valuable asset

JUPITER, Fla. -- Though it is Pete Kozma's above-average ability at short that gives him an edge for an Opening Day bench spot with the Cardinals, it could be his versatility that makes him most valuable.

In order to prepare for a potential super utility fit, Kozma began his spring tour around the field in Sunday's 5-2 win over the Marlins. A day after starting at shortstop, he made his first spring start at second base where he spent four innings before moving to left field, a position he covered for three innings. He then ended his afternoon with two innings back where he is most comfortable -- at short.

There is a plausible scenario in which the Cardinals keep only one true outfielder on their five-player bench. If that's the case, it would require Kozma to be capable at least of filling an outfield spot should the Cardinals get into a jam. He'll also be ready to back up anywhere on the infield and is getting catching instruction this spring so that he is ready as an emergency backstop.

The Cardinals have prioritized getting a few select utility infielders catching work to ensure the team is covered. Daniel Descalso, now with the Rockies, was the one who would have gotten behind home plate in a bind in recent years.

"Pete Kozma is a pure athlete," manager Mike Matheny said. "You watch him walk across the clubhouse and he's just bouncing. His quick twitches and his reaction, he's fun to watch. I was thinking about that [on Saturday while] watching him play shortstop. He's an athlete. And he's got enough speed, too, for maybe not having great jumps and instincts. I think the more you watch him out there, the more impressed you are with what he can do."

Kozma, the Cardinals' starting shortstop in 2013, has made 138 of his 144 Major League starts at that position. The others have come at second base, and only once has he appeared in the outfield in a Major League game. Kozma played a limited amount of third base and outfield in the Minors.

Even though Kozma is working on his catching technique and has been fitted for a thumb protector, Matheny said it's unlikely he'll make a catching appearance in a Grapefruit League game. That work, instead, will come behind the scenes.

 When jokingly asked if he would pitch to the Cardinals' new super utility guy, Lance Lynn deadpanned:

"I don't know," Lynn said. "I won't answer that until I see him catch."

Kozma's case for a big league roster spot is also aided by his status as an out-of-options player. Because he has exhausted the option years that allowed the Cardinals to shuttle him between the Majors and the Minors, Kozma cannot be sent to Triple-A to start the season without first being exposed to waivers.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB and like her Facebook page Jenifer Langosch for Cardinals.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.