Baseball season is approaching at light speed. In just a bit more than three weeks, the Reds will open the season against Miami. Correspondingly, we’re getting to the end of these previews. My plan was to discuss third at this point in the series as I figured by now we would know how healthy Scott Rolen was going to be (more or less) and who his backup figured to be. Rolen seems to be doing great. However, Juan Francisco has been dealing with some injury issues and is chowing down on kibble in Dusty’s doghouse, so third isn’t set yet.

So instead, we’ll jump ahead to short, where the picture is much clearer. Some have accused me of being overly optimistic, but that shouldn’t be an issue as we discuss Zach Cozart, or as I like to think of him, Barry Larkin 2.0 (I’m kidding).

Zach Cozart came into spring training fully-recovered from his surgeries and there have been no signs that his place as the Reds’ starter is in any kind of jeopardy. Even ZiPS, the most bearish of the projection systems, sees Cozart as an average shortstop worth 2.0 WAR. Others are even more optimistic. Many non-partisan analysts and scouts are also higher on him than ZiPS. Certainly, coming off the ugly-fest at shortstop last year, it’s nice to have a prospect who no one seems to feel will be an abject failure.

However, this is a position where we do need to discuss the backup. Probably, it’s going to be Wilson Valdez. That’s why he was signed and I’d expect him to play when Baker gives Cozart a day off (and he will have days off unless he’s destroying the league). Paul Janish might have a shot here, but the Reds seem pretty set with the notion that Janish will be the minor league break-glass-in-case-of-emergency shortstop.

You can’t really win with either of those guys as they are both the textbook definition of replacement-level. Thus, whatever value the Reds do get out of shortstop this year will come from Cozart. And there is a lot to like about Cozart. He’s not going to hit like he did in his short stint last year, but he does have legit power, especially for a middle infielder. Also, he’s shown the capacity to hit for a decent average in the minors and that should help offset his below-average walk rate. It will also help that Dusty will probably rest him against especially tough pitchers. Now, on to the projections…

2012 Cozart slash line: .270/.310/.400

2012 Valdez slash line: .250/.300/.320

2012 Janish slash line: .230/.290/.300

2011 Shortstop WAR: 1.2 (0.7 game from Cozart’s 11 games)

2012 Best Guess WAR: 2.5

Projected Difference: 1.3

2012 Floor WAR: 1.0

2012 Ceiling WAR: 4.0

Redleg Nation Position-by-Position Season Preview:

First Base
Second Base
Right Field
Center Field
Starting Pitching – Front End of the Rotation
Starting Pitching – Back End of the Rotation
Left Field
Third Base
Season Preview Wrap-Up