ANAHEIM -- A year ago, there was no hint of what lay in store for Kevin Kouzmanoff in his first month as a Major League starter -- let alone his first season. He'd had just a month's worth of experience at the top level, having been called up by the Cleveland Indians on September 2, 2006. His debut could not have been more auspicious -- or historic. Kouzmanoff hit the first pitch he saw in the Majors for a grand slam off Texas' Edinson Volquez. No Major Leaguer had done it before.
Fast-forward to April 2007, his first month in a Padres uniform. As the Friars' regular third baseman -- three words guaranteed to send a chill down the collective spine of well-schooled Padres followers -- Kouzmanoff put his eye-opening debut in the shadows, hitting .113 going into May. "You couldn't tell the 'boos' from the 'Kouz,'" remembers one member of the Padres' media legion.
Having come to Bordertown in exchange for fan favorite Josh Barfield didn't help matters from a public perspective.Kouzmanoff finished the season at .275, with 18 home runs and 74 RBIs, and complemented that with improvement in the field and on the bases. Padres manager Bud Black still marvels at the turnaround. "He got off to a rough start but came on strong," Black said. "From mid-May, his confidence grew through the end of the season. I think one of the reasons for the adjustment is that he'd never been in a big league camp." Conversely, Kouzmanoff credits Black and his staff for their confidence in him. "I definitely had a tough adjustment period in the beginning," Kouzmanoff said, "but I was fortunate enough to be in a good clubhouse. The players were behind me, and Bud and his staff hung in there." Amid speculation that he'd be sent down in May, Kouzmanoff's turnaround began to take form thanks to "more and more reps," in the words of the native Coloradan. His numbers for May included .303, three home runs and 18 RBIs. Kouzmanoff's outlook for 2008 is anything but relaxed. Black appreciates the fact that his regular third baseman continues to work on his fielding, an unorthodox throwing motion notwithstanding. Asked to pinpoint areas he feels need improvement, Kouzmanoff said flatly, "Everything. Hitting. Fielding. Running. Throwing. I'm never satisfied."
Ted Brock is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.