LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - Sean Kazmar Jr. has been a staple of the Gwinnett roster since 2013, playing in a club-record 460 games over five full seasons. The 2017 campaign was his best offensively as a G-Brave, as he batted .284 with 11 home runs and 45 RBIs in 99 games to earn Gwinnett's co-MVP award alongside Ozzie Albies.
Following that strong performance, the Atlanta Braves made Kazmar a non-roster invitee to 2018 Major League Spring Training for the first time in his six years with the organization. The Gwinnett Stripers' Dave Lezotte caught up with the 33-year-old infielder to discuss his opportunity in camp, being reunited with Braves manager Brian Snitker, how he stays consistent playing into his 30s, and more.
(This interview has been edited for length and clarity).
Dave Lezotte: This season will be your sixth in the Atlanta Braves organization, and Alex Anthopoulos will be the third different Braves General Manager you've played for. What made you want to re-sign with Atlanta?
Sean Kazmar Jr.: Before anything had happened, I had spoken with the Braves towards the end of the season. There was certainly mutual interest. Being this late in my career, I really wanted to try and get closer to home (in Arizona). But the people and the staff, and Alex taking over, and the conversations I had with Atlanta, this is a great spot. There's so much young talent, and just to be a part of it, you know, I want to be. I think I made the right decision coming back.
DL: It's your sixth Spring Training with the Braves, but the first time you're a non-roster invitee. How big of a deal is that for you?
SK: To be given an opportunity to come to big-league camp and just try and show what I can do and provide for a big-league ball team, I'm thankful for it. Hopefully I come out here and open some eyes, just do what I do and hopefully good things happen.
DL: You have some tough competition to make the Major League roster, but do you feel like you're on the Braves' radar for an opportunity this year?
SK: Certainly, I think you (need to) have that mindset. We've got some young studs out there, and they're set to play, most of them in their first full seasons in the big leagues. I'm excited to see that, but at the same time, yeah, I think if you have the mindset to come out here and you know you've got to compete for a job, whatever happens, happens.
DL: Spring Training reunites you with Atlanta Braves manager Brian Snitker, who was also your manager in Gwinnett from 2014-'16. What is it like playing for him again?
SK: It's great. Snit is one of the best managers I've played for, if not the best. To have the opportunity to be with him again up here, it's a great relationship. He treats his guys with the utmost respect and he expects a lot out of us, which are good things. It's great to be under his wing again.
DL: This season will be your 15th in professional baseball. What still motivates you as a player?
SK: It's crazy to think about; it doesn't feel like it's been that long. It certainly has flown by. I think what keeps bringing me back is having the opportunity to compete. Any time you can compete and have fun doing what your job entails, it's great to show up every day. I love it, I love the team camaraderie, I love going out there and facing off against other teams.
DL: You had your best season with Gwinnett last year, batting .284 with 11 home runs and 45 RBIs in 99 games to earn co-MVP honors alongside Ozzie Albies. What did that award mean to you?
SK: It meant a lot. All the hard work I did throughout the whole year paid off in a sense, that I was able to receive an accolade such as co-MVP. To be next to the name "Ozzie Albies," one of the better young ballplayers out there, it's a big honor and I was very thankful for it. It just shows how much hard work I put into last year, and it paid off.
DL: You've hit over .280 in three of your last four seasons with Gwinnett. How have you managed to stay consistent, offensively and defensively, as you play into your 30s?
SK: I think it's just preparation. It's a mindset, showing up to the field to get work in that day and have purpose behind it. I think a lot of guys, they might kind of take that for granted. But I just try to show up and I try to prepare the best that I can. When I do that, that's when I know I can be consistent both offensively and defensively.
Video: Gwinnett's Kazmar makes backhanded play
DL: Having been with the Braves since 2013, you've had a chance to see this minor league system grow and change over the years. With this system now regarded as one of the best in baseball, do you see this year as the time that young talent takes the next step?
SK: I think so. To see the whole process develop in front of my eyes, it's actually pretty special. Just seeing over the last few years some of the trades the Braves have made and some of the talent that's come in here. I remember my first year in Triple-A, I think there was maybe one 20-year-old in the league. Now we (Gwinnett) had three players (20 or younger) last year. It just seems like the talent keeps getting younger and better each year, and it's fun to watch.
DL: Do you feel like you have a leadership responsibility with the younger guys in the organization?
SK: Certainly. I would hope that if they had any questions or anything, to not be afraid to come and ask (me). Like we've talked about, this is my 15th year. I've seen a lot, I haven't seen it all, but I've seen enough to try and point them in the right direction if they did have a question. I invite them in for that, and I certainly take a lot of pride in that. I think that's a big reason why I'm back here.
DL: You have seen a lot of players in your career. Just how good is Ronald Acuna?
SK: Honestly, the first month he was there (in Gwinnett), it was my 14th year, and after the first month I said "alright, he's probably one of the best players I've ever seen." And then at the end of the year, I think it was like the third-to-last game, he'd convinced me that he's the best I've seen in-person that I've played with continually on a daily basis. It just seems like he's rolled it right over into Spring Training. He's exciting to watch, he's got all the talent in the world and he plays hard. I'm excited to see what the future brings for him. He's a great ballplayer.
DL: If you return to Gwinnett, you'll be closing in on the club records for career hits, runs and RBIs. You already hold the club records for games (460), at-bats (1,591) and doubles (91). Even though you'd rather have those numbers in the Majors, is that history meaningful to you?
SK: Absolutely. Like you said, records would be great in the big leagues. But to be able to have my name behind records at the Triple-A level definitely means something. It means I've had longevity in this game, which is tough. It means I come out and I play hard, and those numbers come along with preparing and going out there and handling my business on a daily basis. Yeah, they certainly mean something to me, obviously I'd like them to be at the next level, but if there was another level to get them at, at Triple-A, the highest in the minors, it's definitely something special.
DL: As the guy who wore a G-Braves uniform more than anyone else, what are your thoughts on the Stripers rebrand?
SK: I'm excited for it. I'm excited for the fans. It's going to be slightly different not having the "Braves" on the front of our jerseys, but I've had a chance to see the uniforms. They're loud, they're exciting, I'm really looking forward to it if that's the jersey I get to put on this year. I hope the fans are just as excited and they come out and watch.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.