I was all set to write about Delmon Young today, because I’ve been doing my best to avoid profiling the personally odious yet newsworthy Elijah Dukes for as long as I can. Fortunately, when I calculated the Smells Like Pujols leaderboard standings for this week, Dukes dropped below my artificial floor of 700 similarity points, and Kevin Kouzmanoff of San Diego jumped into his spot, getting over 700 for the first time this season. Since Delmon’s not going anywhere, I figured I’d better take this opportunity to write about someone I’m truly unfamiliar with.
Kouzmanoff is a California native of
Serbian Macedonian descent, but his nickname is “The Crushin’ Russian” because, well, that’s more fun to say. It rhymes, and all. He grew up in Evergreen, CO, which sits 7,000 feet above sea level in the Rocky Mountains. His sporting exploits at Evergreen High did not get him on MLB radar, as at least one full season of baseball was canceled due to persistent snow.
He began his arduous climb to the majors at Cochise Junior College in Arizona, then transferred to Arkansas-Little Rock (average: .364) before walking on at Nevada-
Las Vegas (.361 overall). A lingering back injury dropped him into the sixth round of the amateur draft in 2003, where he was plucked by the Cleveland Indians. He slogged through every rung of the Tribe’s minor league system, starting in short-season A ball with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, thence on to Eastlake, OH, Kinston, NC and Akron before getting to the AAA Buffalo Bisons. He finally made it to the show on September 2, 2006, where he promptly etched his name in the MLB record books by becoming the first player to hit a grand slam on the first pitch he ever saw in the majors.
Kouzmanoff finished out the last 16 games of last year with 3 total home runs and a .411 slugging percentage. He thought he’d be brought back on the major league roster the next season, at least to compete for a job. Not so. A month later he and pitcher Andrew Brown were packaged in a deal that brought Josh Barfield to Cleveland from San Diego.
Kouz started the season in an understandable state of discombobulation, but has raised his game gradually over the course of the season and is now on a hot streak, slugging .542 over the last seven days. It’s his horrible .229 average that is keeping him low in the national consciousness right now. The Padres have tried him everywhere from the top of the order to the bottom, with seventh being his most common home.
Can the streaky third baseman become more selective and work his way up the batting order like he did the minor league system? Time will tell. For now, we’ll enjoy the Slammin’ Serb from a distance, and wish him well.