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May 12, 2016

Phillies prospect Dylan Cozens putting on power display at Double-A

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051215.Phils.Cozens Donald Holohan/Reading Fightin Phils

Dylan Cozens, who has hit 20 home runs and 21 doubles in 75 games at Double-A Reading this season, is going to San Diego for MLB's All-Star Futures Game next month.

TRENTON – They’ve been raving about Dylan Cozens raw power for a while inside the Phillies organization.

Four years ago, then-general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. was close to gushing about the high school kid from Arizona that his team selected in the second round of the 2012 draft.

“He has extraordinary power,” Amaro said at the time, shortly after watching the 17-year-old Cozens work at Citizens Bank Park before the draft. “He was hitting balls pretty much all over the place out of the ballpark. I haven't seen him play in any games, but he was pretty impressive in the workouts.”

Flash forward four years later, and ask Double-A manager Dusty Wathan about raw power.

“Power is one of those things, where you can put a lot of guys out here at this time of the day, 4 to 5 o’clock, and they can show you all the power in the world,” Wathan said before his team took batting practice in Trenton on Thursday. “But when a guy is throwing the ball to get you out, sometimes that power doesn’t show up.”

For Cozens, now 21-years-old and built like a power forward, the power has certainly shown up in 2016.

Cozens ripped his fifth home run in his last six games on Thursday at ARM & HAMMER Park to lead Double-A Reading to a 3-0 win over the Trenton Thunder.

Cozens’s Eastern League-leading 10th home run came in his second at-bat of the night. He hit balls to the warning track in his first and third at-bats.

“I feel like I have the potential to hit a home run every at-bat right now,” Cozens said before the game. “Which is a great feeling.”

If you’re a hitter, at any level, what’s a better feeling to have at the plate?

“If they throw it anywhere in the strike zone, I feel like I have a pretty good chance of hitting it out,” he said. “I’m not saying I’m going to hit it out, I just feel like I have the potential if I get a hold of it.”

Fair enough.

Cozens has an athletic pedigree. His father, Randy Cozens, was a defensive tackle from the University of Pittsburgh drafted by the Denver Broncos 40 years ago this month. Knee injuries derailed the elder Cozens’ pro career before it got started: he never appeared in an NFL game.

Dylan Cozens was gifted with his father’s size – he’s listed at 6-foot-6, 235 pounds – and he had scholarships for basketball, football, and baseball coming out of Chaparral High in Scottsdale, Arizona. But his father wisely recommended baseball, knowing his son had the chance for a longer pro career and because he also saw him hit 19 home runs as a senior, beating the school record held by some guy named Paul Konerko.

“He sent me a signed bat and wrote, ‘Congrats on the record’ on the bat,” Cozens said. “It was really cool.”

So he knew at that moment he could go on to hit over 400 home runs in the big leagues like Konerko did, right?

“I feel like I have the potential to hit a home run every at-bat right now,” Cozens said before the game. “Which is a great feeling.”

“It’s high school pitching,” Cozens said he thought at the time. “But I figured I did something good.”

But Cozens prep power hardly translated in his first three seasons as a pro. He hit 16 home runs in 132 games at Low-A Lakewood two years ago, but his just five in 96 games at Class A Clearwater last year.

That’s right, Cozens has as many home runs this week as he had in five months last year.

“Sometimes you have to learn to be a hitter and then that natural power will come,” Wathan said. “You can’t teach power, it’s one of those things they talk about all the time. You can’t teach it. He has it in there. So it’s a process of trying to develop him into a hitter, and when he hits balls more consistently on the barrel, more balls are going to go out of the ballpark. I think you’re seeing that now.”

Cozens may not have hit many home runs last year, but he did hit .282 with 22 doubles and a .335 OBP. He was continuing to develop as a hitter.

But, late in spring training two months ago, Cozens was getting a little annoyed that his power was M.I.A. So he closed up his swing and put his hands back where he likes them, closer to his chest and not up near his shoulders.

“I used to be open (with my stance) and I’ve closed up,” he said. “I had a problem with flying open, losing my hips and then I’d lose my power I felt like. So I closed up and stayed behind, I’m using my hips and lower half better. … When I was younger I used to hit like this, but they wanted me to change and shorten up my swing.

Ryan Lawrence/For PhillyVoice

Reading outfielder Dylan Cozens chats with home plate umpire John Mang in between pitches on Thursday night in Trenton. He hit his Eastern League-leading 10th home run later in the at-bat.

“They wanted me to do a bunch of different stuff. It wasn’t really working, but I was trying it. … I felt like they were trying to hit me more like a contact hitter than a power hitter. I ended up being able to do it last year, I hit like .280-.290 but I didn’t have (many) home runs. I thought, ‘I don’t really want to be that guy.’”

The guy he is now is one of the most feared hitters in the Eastern League, a player maturing in a Reading lineup filled with promising prospects, like J.P. Crawford, Roman Quinn, and Jorge Alfaro.

Alfaro has considerable raw power, too: he hit a ball an estimated 545-feet in Clearwater this spring. So, who puts on a more impressive power display in B.P., Cozens or Alfaro?

“Batting practice is batting practice,” Cozens said. “It doesn’t count. There isn’t any glory in batting practice.”

OK, let’s ask someone else.

“I’d have to say Cozens for sure,” said Quinn, who roomed with Alfaro in spring training. “He’s 6-6, almost 250 (pounds). The ball comes off his bat differently. It’s pretty close. But Cozens is just a big dude, man, a really big dude. Definitely a tight end. He can eat like one, too.”

But before you start imagining Cozens as some kind of baseball Paul Bunyan, slugging Eastern League pitching with an ax and then returning to the dugout to munch on a turkey leg in between at-bats, you should know he’s not a one-dimensional player. He’s not the larger-than-life, designated hitter-type who hits home runs and does little else.

In addition to hitting his 10th home on Thursday night, Cozens also stole his ninth base of the season (in 10 tries). The one time he was caught came on a pitch-out.

He’s also handled himself well in both corner outfield positions. You may have seen him show off his arm at Citizens Bank Park during the inaugural Futures Series last month.

“He’s more than adequate (in the outfield),” Wathan said. “He made a great catch in right-center yesterday with the bases loaded, they had the tying run on second base. If he doesn’t make that catch, they’re scoring three runs and who knows what’s going to happen.

“He’s a lot more of an athlete than you think he is. He runs way better than you think he is. He doesn’t get out of the box real well, his first step is not great, but once he gets going, for a guy his size, he can really run. He goes first to third really good.”

Of course, you can also conserve energy and just trot from first to third when you’re hitting home runs every night, too.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21