The Philadelphia Phillies are fortunate enough to possess the only two Double-A hitters with more than 30 home runs so far in the 2016 season. Besides Rhys (pronounced “Reese”) Hoskins and Dylan Cozens (pronounced “Cousins”), no other hitter in the Eastern League has more than 20 home runs. No other hitter in all of Double-A has more than 24.
But minor-league hitters with immense power are not a new phenomenon, and a vast majority of them never amount to much, if anything, in the major leagues. But these two, in my opinion, are a different story.
Cozens and Hoskins, rated the No. 18 and 19 prospects in the Phillies system, respectively, at the beginning of the year, have both made strides in 2016 that should have them both quickly ascending. While they both boast similar slash lines in Double-A Reading this year (Cozens: .283/.367/.611 with 32 HR and a .328 ISO; Hoskins: .284/.362/.591 with 33 HR and a .307 ISO), I believe that one of the two is much more likely to be an above-average major-league player and perhaps even an All-Star.
Cozens, who has the less orthodox approach of the two, stands far away from the plate. He dares the pitcher to come inside, knowing that he has the arm length to cover any pitch that could potentially cross the outside of the plate. Essentially, any pitch thrown on the inner half to Cozens is akin to throwing a pitch down the middle to any other hitter.
Even less orthodox than his physical placement is the placement of his hands. Cozens, who stands very upright in the box, keeps his hands low and towards his back hip. This creates problems for him when he chases fastballs up in the zone, which he struggles to get his hands above. Since Cozens can’t to lay off of those pitches, this becomes especially problematic for the slugger. Additionally, his high leg kick leaves him frequently off balance and on his front foot, especially against offspeed pitches. With his freakish power, however, he can still drive the ball out of the park even when he’s fooled by and out in front of a pitch.
Cozens struggles to identify breaking pitches, leaving him even more susceptible to fastballs up and in. The upper, inner quadrant is easily the most glaring hole in his swing. That, coupled with his propensity to get out on his front foot and wave through offspeed pitches, has led to Cozens’ 29.3 K% in AA this year. Cozens does have a BB% of 11.8, which is encouraging, especially since it hadn’t topped 7.2 since Low-A in 2013. A lot of those walks, however, have been a result of Double-A pitchers not wanting to challenge the slugger. Needless to say, his approach will need to improve if he wants to compete against major league pitching.
Hoskins has a much better approach. His stance is more conventional, and his leg lift and stride are much shorter and controlled. With his back foot pointed slightly towards the pitcher, Hoskins lifts his front foot a few inches off the ground as the pitcher winds up and holds it there until he identifies the speed and location of the pitch, which he does well. When pitchers try to surprise him with changeups and breaking pitches in hitters’ counts, Hoskins is often ready to ambush. He stays balanced and doesn’t chase many unhittable pitches.
While most of Hoskins’ home runs are to the pull field, he doesn’t get too pull-happy, especially with pitches up in the zone. When he gets a fastball up and away, he’s not afraid to drive it to right field for a single. This explains Hoskins’ slightly lower ISO (.307 to Cozens’ .337). He is, however, susceptible to the fastball low and away, which he will try to pull.
Hoskins is able to differentiate between fastballs and offspeed pitches much better than Cozens. Hoskins will often check his swing on breaking pitches out of the zone, and he will stay back on changeups, even in hitters’ counts, and drive them. He doesn’t chase nearly as much as Cozens; his walk rate hasn’t been below 9.0% since Low-A (7.7%). Even more encouraging for Hoskins are his split stats. Most right-handed power hitters struggle against right-handed pitchers, but Hoskins’ split in 316 PA against RHP in 2016 is a robust .288/.365/.570 with 25 of his 33 home runs. Conversely, Cozens, a left-handed hitter, struggles mightily against LHP (.204/.286/.387 with 5 of his 31 HR).
While both hitters possess plus power, Cozens’ is elite and able to offset his below-average hit tool at times. The best metaphor for Cozens’ power is a flashy, new titanium driver: It is forgiving and doesn’t require perfect contact for a desirable result. Cozens doesn’t have to barrel up a ball to knock it out of the park, nor does he need to be balanced. He can be fooled by a breaking pitch and have a majority of his weight on his front foot and still easily clear the fence in right-center.
Hoskins, meanwhile, is a high-quality, old-fashioned persimmon three wood. He possesses above-average power, but needs to square up the ball in order to tap fully into it. But Hoskins’ power is more consistent and reliable, mostly due to his superior approach and hit tool.
Both Cozens and Hoskins are large men. Hoskins, listed at 6’4” and 225, is relegated to a corner infield position, most likely 1B, where he is adequate albeit unspectacular. Cozens is listed at 6’6” and 235 and offers more both in the field and on the basepaths. Cozens is an average defender in RF, although he has appeared in CF seven times in his minor-league career. He’s deceptively fast for his size, as his 23 stolen bases in 2014 and 18 this year attest to.
While both players possess above-average power and are thriving in Double-A at relatively young ages (Hoskins is 23 and Cozens is 22), Hoskins has the superior hit tool and approach. Cozens offers more as a defender and a baserunner, but not enough to offset his high strikeout totals, and his power is only marginally superior to that of Hoskins. Hoskins’ power is more translatable to the big leagues, where he has the opportunity to eventually thrive. This may seem strangely optimistic, but I would not bet against him reaching his ceiling as an All-Star first baseman with 30+ home run power and a .260/.340/.500 slash line.