It appears another National League contending club is giving the starting shortstop keys to a relatively unproven youngster. As of now, Zack Cozart is slated to be at short on opening day for the Cincinnati Reds.

In 2007, the Reds drafted Cozart in the second round (they also drafted Todd Frazier and Devin Mesoraco – what a haul).

While he didn’t exactly rocket through A ball (he hit just .267/.317/.419 across two years), he found himself at AA in 2009 as a 23 year-old. He didn’t hit for a good average (.262), but walked 67 times (against 87 Ks) and posted a sublime .360 OBP.

He earned a promotion to AAA in 2010 and struggled a bit, hitting .255/.310/.416. That said, he hit 17 HRs and stole 30 bases (against just four caught stealings). He started 2011 at AAA, but was on the 40-man roster. At 25, Cozart was ready to show that the minors were a kids’ game. He hit .310/.357/.467 with seven HRs and nine SBs in just 77 games.

With the Reds SS sucking big ones, Cozart got the call. In his first game, on July 7, he went 1/3 with a run scored. Through his first 11 games, Cozart was batting .324/.324/.486 with two HRs. He didn’t walk and had six strike outs.

Unfortunately, he hyper-extended his left elbow just 16 days after his first start. His season was over and, on August 12, Cozart had Tommy John surgery. However, he is expected to be ready to go by spring training and, with relatively no in-house options, he has the pole position for the shortstop job.

Like Tyler Pastronicky, I think Cozart will struggle with the stick, perhaps batting .260. That said, he has some upside to the .280 or so range.

Unlike Pastronicky, I think Cozart is good for more power, potentially 15 or so HRs and could steal 17-20 bases. That looks a lot like Danny Espinosa to me. He has some risk, given the injury and lack of track record, however he also has some upside. As a flyer, late in drafts, Cozart makes a fantastic gamble.  Right now, he’s the 26th ranked ESPN shortstop between Yuniesky Betancourt and Alex Gonzalez (two guys you don’t want any part of), 188 overall at Fleaflicker, 185 at Grey’s top 300 for 2012 fantasy baseball.  Earlier in the offseason (back in November!), Grey went over his Zack Cozart fantasy.