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.”