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Cozens ready to make some noise

June 18, 2013 - Mitch Rupert
By MITCH RUPERT

mrupert@sungazette.com

The start to Dylan Cozens' first round of batting practice at Bowman Field wasn't exactly awe-inspiring. A foul ball off the sagging netting on top of the batting cage and a foul tip to the tarped back of the cage.

But then there were the final two swings. Effortless, smooth and powerful. The baseball took a majestic path beyond the right-field wall at Bowman Field. One of those baseballs went over the scoreboard.

That was awe-inspiring.

It's why Cozens was the second-round selection of the Philadelphia Phillies during last June's First-Year Player Draft. Cozens' story is one you'd seem more likely to find in a book of myths, Herculean efforts made for fairy tales.

There are no myths, though, with the hulking 19-year old outfielder. But he is finally getting the chance to show off the skills which has made him such an interesting prospect.

Cozens will make his Bowman Field debut tonight for the Williamsport Crosscutters as they play their first home game of the season against State College. Cozens is one of five players from the 2012 draft class on the Cutters roster who were selected out of high school and are making their debut outside of Florida.

Of the five, Cozens is surrounded by the most intrigue. There's a swirling wind of questions surrounding the outfielder who was a surprise pick in the second round a year ago, mainly, how does a second-round pick not appear in Baseball America's Top 500 prospects prior to the draft?

“I'm not really sure how that happens,” Cozens said during the Crosscutters' annual media day Saturday. “I'm just happy there were a couple teams that were turned on to me. The communications I was having with teams, I knew I'd go that high.”

The son of former University of Pittsburgh and Denver Broncos defensive end Randy Cozens, the skills were never really question. His power had been rated as a plus to plus-plus tool, and, according to Baseball America's scouting report, scouts were banking on his bat more than his defense.

But there was the controversy surrounding his departure from Desert Mountain High School for Chaparral and his subsequent eligibility. He was kicked off the Desert Mountain baseball team in early 2011 for disciplinary reasons, and transferred to Chaparral High School. According to the East Valley Tribune, Cozens was “deemed ineligible for 365 days after transferring from Desert Mountain to Chaparral” because according to Arizona Interscholastic Association bylaws “... a student who is removed from a school for disciplinary reasons is ineligible to play at another school for one year.” The AIA said the rule also applied if he was merely removed from an athletics team.

Cozens missed his entire junior season of baseball because of the ruling, but came back as a senior with something to prove. He hit 19 home runs, the last of which was a walk-off home run in a 5-3 win in the Arizona Class 5A Division I championship game.

The 19 home runs broke the school record previously held by Paul Konerko. Yes, the Paul Konerko who has 428 career home runs in 17 Major League seasons. Cozens played just one year at Chaparral, but his name litters the school's record book. And it's a program that has produced two current major leaguers in Konerko and the Mets' Ike Davis.

Konerko sent Cozens one of his bats with a congratulatory message on it after he broke the record.

Cozens' selection was met by skepticism by ESPN's Keith Law, one of the foremost experts in the country on scouting amateur baseball players. During a chat on ESPN.com last year, he responded to a question about Cozens with, “He wasn't rated highly because he's not that good. … And he's a big power-before-hit guy who put on 50-60 pounds in a single summer.”

The Phillies were turned on to Cozens after he participated in a workout at Citizens Bank Park where he reportedly littered the outfield seats with home runs to all fields.

“That's probably the guys (Cozens) I'm most excited about,” Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. told the Philadelphia Daily News last year. “This is a kid that people knew about but were kind of (turned) off for whatever reason. I love the guy's power … I mean extraordinary power for a kid.”

Cozens clearly passes the eye test, at 6-foot-6, 235 pounds, he's truly a kid in a man's body. On top of that, his raw power is prodigious. And with an adjustment he made last year during his time in the Gulf Coast League, he's also hoping he can be more consistent with his contact rate.

The numbers he put up for the GCL Phillies were encouraging. He hit five home runs – which Cozens said still wasn't good enough for him. He was also better than the league average with his batting average (.255), on-base percentage (.341), slugging percentage (.441) and OPS (.782). And maybe more surprising than anything else, he stole nine bases in 11 attempts.

It was an encouraging start, for sure. He was off to a hot start at the beginning of the season, but struggled to maintain that momentum through the two months of the season.

“The whole GCL season we were changing up my swing a whole lot. We shortened it up a little bit and got my hands closer to my body,” Cozens said. “I had this little hitch when I would load, and it kind of wasn't working out with the faster pitches. But I still have the power. I feel strong like can get the ball out anywhere in the park.”

“He has all the tools to be a star. The only way he doesn't make it is if it he doesn't want it,” Crosscutters first-yer manager Nelson Prada said. “He's got the bat speed and he has the power. One thing he has is the confidence. He thinks he can hit .500. He's a guy that's got a lot of confidence, which is good.”

Power and strength aren't the question. He was strong enough to play high school football for one season in high school and earn an offer to play collegiately. Before being drafted, he had committed to playing both baseball and football at the University of Arizona.

He had never played football growing up, outside of one season when he was really young. It was something his father didn't want him to do after his career in the NFL ended with an injury. He felt like there was a better long-term future in baseball anyway.

But Cozens said he loved playing, and Chaparral was a football powerhouse and he was talked into giving it a try. Despite being a first-year player, he was fourth on the team with 49 tackles as a defensive end. He also led the team with 8 ½ sacks as the Firebirds won the AIA Division 2 championship.

“If I hadn't gotten drafted I would have went to school to play which would have been a lot of fun,” Cozens said with an ear-to-ear grin. “I loved it. I love football.”

Baseball always seemed to be in Cozens' future though. His agents even convinced him to consider the possibility of playing in Japan following high school. He reportedly had a $2 million offer to play baseball in Japan.

Cozens said he did consider the offer, but chose instead to sign with the Phillies as the 77th over $659,800.

“I thought about it because they throw out a lot of money to players from the United States,” Cozens said. “But I couldn't see myself going over there. Maybe later in my career if it doesn't work out here, but hopefully that doesn't happen.”

One thing's for sure, there's going to be a lot of eyes on Cozens for the next 2 ½ months.

 
 

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