The Philadelphia Phillies have made significant improvements to their overall roster for the 2019 season. Two of those upgrades came in the starting outfield, where former NL MVP’s Andrew McCutchen and Bryce Harper now hold down the left and right field corners respectively.
Center field was supposed to feature an open competition between Odubel Herrera and Roman Quinn. Injuries to both players have left the position a bit of a question mark. It is expected that Herrera will be available sooner, and for now he appears to be the odds-on favorite to open the season starting between McCutchen and Harper.
That would seem to leave a pair of returnees, Aaron Altherr and Nick Williams, as likely bench performers. The 25-year-old Williams saw 448 plate appearances across 140 games as the starting right fielder a year ago. It was just two years ago that the now 28-year-old Altherr made 92 starts in the outfield.
With just over three weeks remaining in Grapefruit League action down in Florida, much could still change for the Phillies. Injuries and even further trades by the front office could alter the player mix before the club heads north for the season opener on March 28 at Citizens Bank Park.
Another factor in determining which players make the Opening Day roster will be performance here at spring training. That is where 24-year-old Dylan Cozens comes into the picture. After receiving his first cup of coffee in the big-leagues during the 2018 season, Cozens is hoping to force his way into the mix down in Clearwater.
Last season, Cozens appeared in the first 26 games of his Major League Baseball career. He played in 14 games split between the two corner outfield positions with the Phillies, getting eight starting opportunities. Over 44 plate appearances he slashed .158/.273/.289 with three extra-base hits and one stolen base.
On June 6 at Wrigley Field against the host Chicago Cubs, Cozens blasted his first career big-league home run. In the top of the 9th with the score tied at 3-3 and facing closer Brandon Morrow, Cozens ripped a 2-1 pitch out deep on a line to left field for a two-run blast to put the Phillies on top.
During his seven-year minor league career after being drafted by the Phillies in the second round back in 2012, Cozens had developed as a major power-speed force, drilling 126 home runs and swiping 100 bags.
During the 2016 season at Double-A Reading, Cozens blasted 40 home runs. He teamed with current Phillies star Rhys Hoskins, who ripped 38 long balls that year, to form the most formidable 1-2 power combination in the minor leagues. Of course, it is well known that Reading is one of the friendliest hitting environments in all of professional baseball.
But his 849 strikeouts, 504 of those over the last three seasons at the highest levels, reveal the significant holes in his swing. Cozens struck out in more than 34% of his plate appearances over the last three years between Double-A and Triple-A.
Cozens plays solid outfield defense. He made just three errors while playing more than 1,600 innings at Triple-A Lehigh Valley over the last two seasons. He committed none during his 77.2 defensive innings with the Phillies.
During the early weeks of this 2019 Grapefruit League campaign it has been so-far, so-good for Cozens. He is off to a fast start, slashing .500/.611/1.071 in his first 14 at-bats with two homers, two doubles, five RBI, five runs scored, and a stolen base. His four strikeouts over 18 plate appearances make for a more acceptable 22% rate.
In order to find a lasting role with the Phillies or as part of any other big-league roster he is going to have to learn to make more consistent contact. Otherwise he could find the “4A” label hung on him: good enough to play well at Triple-A, but not good enough to succeed in the Majors.
The Phillies outfield picture appears to be crowded, but injuries have opened some playing time opportunities for the time being. Cozens needs to take advantage and continue to show improvement in his game. If he does so, he could force the club’s decision-makers into some difficult choices at the end of the month.
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