TRENTON- Normally a slow starter that heats up as the season moves along, Dylan Cozens is happy about his hot start this year.
The 21-year-old entered this season as a career .242 hitter with an average of seven extra-base hits in the opening month of the full season. Through 33 games this year for Double-A Reading, Cozens sports a .274 average with eight doubles and an Eastern League leading 10 home runs. This year, he out-slugged his previous best April by 125 points.
“I’ve never had a good start in the minors (till now),” Cozens said. “I always tend to pick it up and get better as I get going, so to start strong is great.”
Reading manager Dusty Wathan explains that the emergence of Cozens lately is a result of the player becoming better overall at the plate.
“You can’t teach power. It’s one of those things that we talk about all the time, you can’t teach it. And he has it in there, so the process is, ‘Let’s see if we can develop this guy into a hitter.’ And when he becomes a hitter and he hits more balls consistently on the barrel, more balls are going to go out of the ball park and I think you’re seeing that now,” Wathan said.
Cozens, a second round pick of the Phillies back in 2012 out of Chapparal High School in Arizona, has performed considerably better at Reading’s home park, FirstEnergy Stadium, in the early going this season, but he hasn’t noticed a variance in the numbers.
“I don’t pay attention to that. It’ll all balance out,” Cozens, who touts a .299/.390/.746 home slash line compared to a .246/.323/.386 line on the road.
That prediction of the numbers balancing out seems fairly on point, following an effort in Trenton on Thursday that saw Cozens slug three deep fly balls, each of which looked like home runs off the bat, but an uncooperative wind path knocked two of them down. He was successful getting one ball to leave ARM & HAMMER Park during the contest. It was his fifth round-tripper in his past six games.
Five homers in a week is more impressive when considering he notched just five big flies in 96 games with Class A Advanced Clearwater in the Florida State League last year.
The effort to become a better, smarter hitter may have played a role in last year’s drop in home runs, following a 2014 in which he slugged 16 in 132 games with Class A Lakewood.
“If you’re at a ballpark where it’s a big field, you’re not trying to juice it out of the ballparks as much, because then you’re working against yourself, kind of, and you’ll have more fly ball outs and you’re hurting yourself, hurting the team. I just kind of play to the park and the elements a little bit,” Cozens stated.
In addition to his power bat, Cozens worked this past off-season on increasing his speed and he has worked on learning what he calls “the art of stealing bases” so he can contribute in other ways.
The athletic six-foot-six 235-pounder was hoping for a perfect season on the base paths with steal attempts this year, but was caught for the only time in 10 attempts earlier this week when Binghamton pitched out.
“He’s a lot more of an athlete than you think he is. He runs better than you think he does,” Wathan said. “He doesn’t get out of the box real well, as far as naturally- his first step, but once he gets going for a guy his size, he can really run. He goes first-to-third real good.”
Cozens also can gun down runners and does a fine job in both left and right field.
“He made a great catch in right-center field yesterday with the bases loaded, they had the tying run on second base and if he doesn’t make that catch, they’re scoring three runs and who knows what’s going to happen in our ball game,” Wathan said of Cozens, who made a game saving catch to help Reading beat Binghamton on Wednesday.
With all the right tools and being as hot as can be, Cozens wants to avoid feeling complacent. Knowing that Double-A isn’t the ultimate goal, he’s embraced an outlook to keep himself motivated.
“I just try to look at as there’s always someone better. I just try to look at a guy that I think is doing better than me and I try to let that motivate me and make that drive me to be better. I want to be the best,” Cozens said.
A second generation athlete, Dylan’s father Randy was a defensive standout at Pitt and was drafted into the NFL before knee injuries ended his playing days.
With a family trip to Pennsylvania planned for late in the season to see him play, Cozens hopes he won’t still be on the Reading roster when that happens.
“To finally start off like this has me feeling good and confident about the rest of the season,” Cozens said. “Hopefully, I won’t be in Reading anymore.”
If the production keeps up, the Cozens family could easily alter the travel itinerary to nearby Allentown, home of the Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs, or perhaps to the home city of the big league team, Philadelphia.
Another potential move:
Speaking with media members, Wathan also shared that he would not be surprised to see top Phillies prospect J.P. Crawford moving up to Triple-A Lehigh Valley in the coming weeks…
“He’s pretty close. I think he’s pretty close to getting out of here. He’s pretty close with the at bats where he was in Clearwater last year (before he got promoted to Reading). I think, you know, it wouldn’t be a surprise for me to see him out of here in the next couple weeks to a month, or so. You know, he’s done what he needs to do. He’s got a couple more things to prove to get where he wants to go and where we want him to go as an organization. But, it wouldn’t surprise me if you were to see something in the next couple of weeks.”