Phillies

Phillies tell hulking power hitter Dylan Cozens to tone it down

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Jim Salisbury/NBCSP

Phillies tell hulking power hitter Dylan Cozens to tone it down

CLEARWATER, Fla. – At 6-6, 245 pounds, Dylan Cozens was the biggest player in Phillies camp last spring.

This year, he's bigger.

“Yeah,” Cozens said with a laugh. “I’m 270 pounds now.”

And it’s all muscle.

Cozens, a 23-year-old corner outfielder, hit the weight room hard this offseason. So now, his muscles have muscles.

There is a plan behind the added strength. Cozens struggled at Triple A last season. He hit just .210 and struck out 194 times. He still has awesome power from the left side, as evidenced by 27 homers and 74 RBIs last season. But he needs to make more contact if he’s going to board the same Philadelphia-bound train that Rhys Hoskins, Nick Williams, J.P. Crawford and Jorge Alfaro did last season.

More contact is the reason for the added strength.

“Just to have easier power,” Cozens said. “The plan is easier swings with two strikes.

New manager Gabe Kapler spent significant time digging into the Phillies' roster this winter, learning everything he could about his new players. That included players who hadn’t reached the majors yet, prospects like Cozens, the Double A Eastern League MVP from 2016.

Kapler and the Phillies' staff, which includes new hitting coach John Mallee, are looking for Cozens to simply swing a little easier. That could equal more contact, and more contact – for a man of Cozens’ size – will equal more home runs.

“Effort level is always big when it comes to making contact,” Kapler said. “I’m not trying to hit the ball 500 feet. I can hit it 400 feet and it’s still a homer. And by the way, I’m this big and strong and all I really need to do is make flush contact with the baseball. So thinking about being a good hitter first and a power hitter second will actually increase his home run totals and increase his on-base capabilities, which are both things I think he’d be happy with.”

Kapler trotted out an analogy in talking about Cozens.

“Effort level speaks to how hard I’m swinging,” Kapler said. “Am I coming with my 90 percent effort level or am I coming with my 100 percent effort level? If all my muscles are firing and my jaws are clenched and I’m going full speed ahead, I might not be running as fast as if I was more like a cheetah, right? I think that’s the message we would send to Dylan. You’re more a cheetah than a brute. Let it fly, be easy, and that’s going to create loud contact for him because he’s as strong as any individual I’ve been around. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a guy with that level of strength and power ever on a baseball field before.”

Cozens arrived at camp early and has been working with Mallee and Charlie Manuel.

Manuel never met a power hitter he didn’t love. He raves about some of the moon shots that Cozens has hit in batting practice.

“He’s got talent,” Manuel said, emphasizing the last word. “He hits balls completely out of the ballpark. If he controls his swing, he’ll be fine.”

Cozens was recruited to play defensive end by the University of Arizona, but instead signed with the Phillies after being selected in the second round of the 2012 draft. He looked to be on a fast track to the big leagues when he pulverized Eastern League pitchers in 2016. Despite striking out 186 times, he hit .276 with 40 homers, 125 RBIs and a .941 OPS. Last season, his OPS dipped .719. He hit .217 against right-handers and .194 against lefties.

“It was terrible,” Cozens said of his season. “I lost my core mechanics. Just a lack of confidence. I doubted myself. Mentally and mechanics-wise, I felt like it was a mess. I was all over the place. I wasn’t consistent at all. I got in my own head.

“I was trying all sorts of different things. I was in on the plate, off the plate, bigger leg kick, smaller leg kick, toe tap, no stride.”

As Cozens fiddled with his mechanics he saw several friends and longtime teammates – players that he’d always been mentioned with as the next generation of Phillies – go to the majors. A year ago at this time, Cozens was thinking he’d play in the majors in 2017. Looking back now …

“I didn’t deserve it,” he said. “I don’t think where I was at with my mechanics being all over the place, and where I was mentally being all over the place, it would have been a good start for me. You don’t want to go up there and fail. You want to be ready for when you’re up there and I didn’t feel like I was ready.”

Cozens’ current swing mechanics are closer to what they were in 2016: Small leg kick. A little hand movement.

“Toning it down,” he said. “I know I can play better than I did last year.”

And so does Kapler.

“You don’t ignore the fact that he needs to make more contact,” the manager said. “That’s 100 percent true.

“If you ask him, he’ll say, ‘If I make more contact I will hit more home runs and be much more valuable to my team. I will reach base more and I will give myself a better chance to be a Philadelphia Phillie.’ “

That’s the goal for Dylan Cozens. One bad season hasn’t changed that. He still has the tools to make it happen.

"I want to have an amazing spring training and force them to make a decision to keep me up there," Cozens said. "It’s probably unlikely, so go to Triple A, hit the ground running and make the decision hard on them.”

Phillies' Odubel Herrera does some between-the-ears work — and it shows

Phillies' Odubel Herrera does some between-the-ears work — and it shows

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Despite having just 12 plate appearances coming into Sunday’s Grapefruit League game against the Baltimore Orioles, Odubel Herrera sure looked locked-in.

He singled, doubled and homered on his way to a four-RBI day in the Phillies’ 11-4 win.

Opening day is Thursday.

“I’m ready,” Herrera said. “I want to start the year hot. I want to get going quickly. It’s important to the team and it’s important to me.”

Herrera missed significant time early in camp, first with a hamstring injury then a flu bug that visited a number of players this spring.

Herrera offered up Sunday’s performance at the plate as proof that he didn’t just sit around the athletic trainer’s room for three weeks before playing in his first Grapefruit League game March 16.

He worked in the batting cage, seeing pitches and fine-tuning his swing.

He worked in the weight room.

He also did some between-the-ears work.

While his mates were on the field, he spent some time in the video room with Geoff Miller, the team’s mental skills coach.

“We did exercises where I could visualize the game and kind of not lose time, as if I was still playing,” Herrera said through Diego Ettedgui, the team’s Spanish-language translator.

According to Herrera, Miller cued up videos of some of Herrera’s stellar performances last season.

“Maybe we’d watch a really good at-bat that I had in a game,” Herrera said. “He’d ask me to go through the at-bat. ‘What were you thinking in the at-bat? What was your approach? Try to visualize yourself in that moment again. How can you repeat what you did there because you were successful?’ Little tactics to build confidence.”

Herrera, 27, is one of the Phillies’ most talented players. He made the NL All-Star team in 2016 and signed a five-year, $30.5 million contract extension later that year. In addition to being talented, however, Herrera is also inconsistent. Last season was a case in point. He hit .361 with a .989 OPS in his first 40 games. Over the final two months of the season, he hit just .189 with a .530 OPS and lost playing time to Roman Quinn.

Herrera’s poor finish last season earned him a mandate from general manager Matt Klentak and manager Gabe Kapler: Get into better physical shape. Herrera reported to camp down 20 pounds in February. The bosses also wanted to see Herrera become more focused mentally. Herrera said he’s embracing the mental side of the game more now.

“I feel like I need to take advantage of everything that can help me or the team,” he said.

Kapler has seen improved focus in Herrera’s behind-the-scenes work this spring — and on the field Sunday.

“It’s really interesting how his performance coincides with his engagement so strongly,” Kapler said. “When he’s locked in from every angle, he just plays great baseball. He looks like one of the best players on the field all the time and I think that’s what is happening right now for him.

“We want to maintain this level of focus. It’s wonderful to do it in spring training. Our expectation is that he continues to maintain that focus and concentration and that high level of play throughout the season.”

If Herrera needs a reason to be motivated to maintain his sharp mental focus, there is one getting at-bats at the minor-league complex. Quinn will open the season on the disabled list, but he won’t be out long. There is no landing spot in left or right field for Herrera. Andrew McCutchen and Bryce Harper are going to play. If Herrera wants to stay in the lineup, he has to lock down the center field job with more performances like Sunday’s.

We’ll begin finding out if he can do that Thursday.

“I feel like this will be a really good year for me and the Phillies and hopefully we can make something special happen,” Herrera said.

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Rhys Hoskins is still sore; Phillies remain confident he will be ready for opening day

Rhys Hoskins is still sore; Phillies remain confident he will be ready for opening day

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Even after backing off a tentative plan of playing Rhys Hoskins on Sunday, the Phillies remain optimistic that he will be ready to play in Thursday’s season opener.

“The game plan is for him to play [Monday] and be ready for opening day,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “We feel confident in that.”

Hoskins, the team’s first baseman and cleanup hitter, has not played since last Sunday when he hurt his left shoulder taking an awkward swing. An MRI showed no structural damage and Hoskins has continued to do drills. The Phils had hoped to play Hoskins on Sunday, but he was held out of the game against Baltimore. He was able to take batting practice.

“There’s been steady improvement but there’s still a little bit of soreness,” Kapler said. “Rhys is very important to us and our season and we’re always going to lean toward the side of caution, expecially this close to opening day. We wanted to give him some extra time to improve.”

Hoskins said much of the same: There’s still a little soreness, he’s improving and he’ll be ready for opening day. He said he was confident that he would play in the team’s final Grapefruit League game on Monday afternoon against Tampa Bay in Clearwater.

The Phillies’ lineup Sunday reflected some concern for Hoskins. Maikel Franco moved over from third base and started at first for the second time in three games. He is essentially the team’s backup first baseman. Scott Kingery started at third base. If Hoskins were to miss any time, this would be how the Phillies would cover him. At the moment, however, the team is confident that Hoskins will not miss any time.

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