SAN DIEGO — Dylan Cozens began what will be a whirlwind few days with a 4 a.m. wakeup in Reading on Saturday and a cross-country flight from Philadelphia to San Diego. By Sunday afternoon, he was in downtown San Diego making spacious Petco Park look small as he launched batting practice home runs before Major League Baseball’s annual Futures Game. On Tuesday and Wednesday, he’ll be in Akron, Ohio for the Eastern League Home Run Derby and All-Star Game.
This is the travelogue of a young man having a great season.
Cozens, who turned 22 on May 31, has spent the past year rocketing his way up the Phillies’ prospect chart. His status as one of the game’s top prospects was confirmed when he was invited to play in the Futures Game with many of the other elite prospects from around the game.
Cozens, a hulking 6-foot-6, 250-pound rightfielder, earned his trip to San Diego by hitting .286 with 24 home runs and 75 RBIs in 85 games for the rampaging Double A Reading Fightin Phils. He also has 16 stolen bases, so the man can run, too.
The Reading ballclub has the best record in all of minor league baseball at 63-27 and features another slugger who is putting up numbers as impressive as Cozens'. First baseman Rhys Hoskins, 23, is hitting .287 with 25 homers and 83 RBIs. Hoskins was not picked to play in the Futures Game. There are only so many spots. But he will play in the Eastern League All-Star Game and participate in the league’s Home Run Derby with Cozens and another Reading player, catcher Jorge Alfaro.
Hoskins and Cozens rank 1-2 in all of minor-league ball in home runs. It could be a dramatic race for the league home run crown and MVP award if both of these guys stay in Reading all season.
“We’re having fun with it,” Cozens said of the nightly power duel with Hoskins. “We wish the best for each other. We’re more focused on what happens at the big-league level, just trying to mold our games so we’re ready for that.
“We both have the same goal and that’s to be everyday major-league players. But as far as the home run race goes, it’s not really a race. We’re just trying to get better every day. The fact that we’re both hitting home runs is great. We’re winning ballgames and having a lot of fun.”
Cozens has huge left-side power to all fields. He showed that in batting practice before Sunday’s Futures Game, impressing even Jim Thome, who served as hitting coach for the U.S. team. Cozens hit nine homers in BP — five to center field, two to left and two to right. None of them were paint-scrapers. A couple of them were chair-breakers.
Cozens played four innings in right field for the U.S. team on Sunday. He popped out to right in his only at-bat. Eloy Jimenez of the World team climbed the side wall to make a spectacular catch in foul territory. The World team won the game, 11-3. Ricardo Pinto, another Phillies prospect from the Double A club, pitched two-thirds of an inning for the World club.
As a kid growing in the Phoenix area, Cozens was a gifted football player. He was recruited to play baseball and football (he was a defensive end) at the University of Arizona but chose to sign with the Phillies after they made him their second-round draft pick in 2012.
Cozens has always been impressed with power hitters. He likes watching tape of Barry Bonds. He enjoys watching Josh Donaldson, last year’s American League MVP with Toronto, take his hacks. Donaldson uses a front leg kick to help generate power. Cozens started using one early this season, but recently toned it down.
“I had a leg kick early in the year,” Cozens said. “I’m trying to be a little shorter now because I was striking out. I was watching Donaldson and I like the power that he generates and he’s not a real big guy. I was thinking, ‘I’m big, I could generate a lot of power if I did that.’ I tried it out for a little bit. It worked, but I want to be shorter (with his swing) now.”
Cozens already has 108 strikeouts, second-most in the Eastern League. Joe Jordan, the Phillies’ director of player development, acknowledged that power hitters will strike out. But he believes Cozens can significantly reduce his strikeouts on his way to becoming a complete player.
“He’s got a beautiful swing when he’s just trying to be a hitter,” Jordan said. “And he’s got every ingredient you need to be a power hitter, strength, bat speed, leverage. But there’s absolutely no reason he should strike out 30 percent of the time. Pitchers are getting him out outside the strike zone. He needs to continue to make improvements and when he does that his walks will go up and his strikeouts will go down.
“He’s impacting games with his defense, on the bases and in the batter’s box. And we think he’s still just scratching the surface. He can cut down on his strikeouts and be a .300 hitter who steals 25 bases. It’s in there.”
Cozens concurred with Jordan. He believes he can hit .300 — with power — if he reduces his strikeouts.
“Absolutely,” Cozens said. “I’m still young, still learning and getting better, a lot better every year, too. In the past year, I’ve gotten more confident. I’m learning how to get my pitch and actually do some damage with it and be aggressive on pitches I want to hit. I’m not chasing and getting myself out with pitchers’ pitches. I'm waiting for my pitch. But I still feel like there’s learning to do. There’s a lot more in the tank I can show.”
Cozens is well aware of the talent the Phillies are putting together in the minor leagues and of the young players who are already making a contribution in the majors. He believes the Phillies are on the right path toward one day putting together a winning team like the one he currently plays on in Reading.
“I’ve never been on a team in my life that has been so talented,” he said. “I’ve never seen this much talent in the system. I think we’re absolutely stacked. We’ve got a lot of young guys that are going to be big-time players at the major-league level in years to come. It’s just a matter of time before we all put it together, but it should be soon.”