It was only two seasons ago that Rhys Hoskins and Dylan Cozens combined to dominate Eastern League pitching on their way to mashing a combined 78 home runs at Double-A Reading.
As you can see, their performances were outrageous:
By the end of the 2016 season, it wasn’t hard to envision both players soon arriving in Philadelphia to regularly launch baseballs over the fences of Citizens Bank Park and make the Phillies relevant again. That dream, as you know, has not worked out to this point as the career paths of Hoskins and Cozens diverged in two very different directions a season ago. Hoskins continued his dominance after a promotion to Triple-A Lehigh Valley, and by season’s end, emerged as one of Major League Baseball’s most exciting young hitters, while Cozens struggled to merely put the ball in play with the Iron Pigs. He flat-lined in 2017, hitting a dreadful .210 with 194 strikeouts in 542 plate appearances (35.8 K%). With several of the organization’s top prospects now with the Phillies, Cozens had become somewhat of a forgotten man. That is, until yesterday, when he did this:
— IronPigs (@IronPigs) May 2, 2018
Hitting three bombs while the big league club is 25th in home runs, 26th in slugging-percentage, and 22nd in OPS will get you noticed, and it begs the question: Is there a chance that Cozens could resurface as an option for a Phillies offense that could use more thump? After all, power has never been the issue for the 24-year-old, who still managed 27 homers a season ago despite his noted struggles. The problem is what it always has been – contact. Cozens, who has struck out 35 times in 96 plate appearances this season, is almost impossibly striking out at a higher rate (36.5%) than he did last season. While his contact rate remains problematic, the strikeout isn’t as taboo in 2018 as hitters have become obsessed with launch angles to, in part, beat defensive shifts and, more importantly, score big contracts.
A closer look at the numbers suggests that there are some encouraging signs for the 6’6” athletic slugger beyond his dramatic jump from a .719 OPS in ’17 to .942 this season and his .278 batting average that is almost identical to the .276 one he posted two seasons ago. The biggest reason for optimism is his increased line drive percentage that is up from 19.4% in ’17 to 37.8% so far this season, which has also occurred at the expense of lazy fly balls. His fly ball percentage has dipped from 48.1% to 33.3%. While some regression should be anticipated, the short summary here is that he’s generating better contact and thus maximizing both his power and ability to reach base when he puts the ball in play. That’s a positive development.
Data is a bit limited for minor league players, so we’re not privy to his chase rates and pitch selection. His walk rate is currently a career-best 14.6%, which, at least on the surface, provides some optimism about a slightly improved plate-discipline and approach.
This isn’t to say that Cozens is going to bounce back and find his way to Philadelphia by season’s end, but with Nick Williams buried on the bench and the Phillies offense off to an uninspiring start, it’s at least worth keeping an eye on Cozens’ performance as the season progresses.