The Philadelphia Phillies have one of the most talent-laden farm systems in baseball, and a powerful young outfielder is starting to make his mark.
Over the past month, the Phillies have reverted back to the non-contending team many thought they would be this season. After a surprising 22-15 start, the Phils had lost 20 of their last 28 entering Wednesday night’s contest.
It was a fun run while it lasted, but how could a team continue to play .595 baseball when the lineup really had only two legitimate Major League starters? The conversation has slowly turned from the 2016 season to what the Phils will look like when they really are ready to contend.
That conversation began in earnest with the promotion from AAA Lehigh Valley of 1st baseman Tommy Joseph, who made his Phillies big league debut on May 13th.
Joseph, the centerpiece of the Hunter Pence trade nearly five years ago, had almost become an after thought in the organization and its fan base following a series of concussions which derailed his catching career.
After a horrendous six-week stretch by the one-time platoon of Ryan Howard and Darin Ruf, Joseph was promoted, and has finally been named as the starting 1st baseman for the Philadelphia Phillies. More changes are coming.
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On May 20th, J.P. Crawford was promoted to AAA Lehigh Valley. Though Crawford has hit a speed bump at the minors highest level, there is no one in the game who doubts his talent, or that he is the Phillies shortstop of the future.
Williams got off to a mediocre start at Lehigh Valley this year, but has shown improved plate discipline and has been hitting with more power of late. He’ll need to continue hitting the ball with authority and being selective at the plate before GM Matt Klentak gives him the call.
Most fans believe Herrera and Williams will comprise two-thirds of the Phils outfield on Opening Day in April 2017. More likely than not, Williams will make his Major League debut at some point this year.
The corner outfield positions have been offensive disasters for the Phillies this year. If Williams produces as expected he’ll solidify one of the corners. But what of the other corner?
Aaron Altherr was slated to start in left field before the season began, but he was lost to a broken wrist shortly after the start of Spring Training.
There’s been a long-standing assumption that if Roman Quinn could stay healthy, he’d eventually be the third young outfielder on the new look Phillies, along with ‘El Torito’ and Williams. That assumption could now be in jeopardy with the emergence of another player, the lefty-handed power-hitting Dylan Cozens.
Over his first 63 games at AA Reading this season, the 6’6″ and 235 pound beast of a hitter is tearing up the Eastern League. Cozens leads the EL in runs (53), home runs (19), total bases (147), SLG% (.600) and OPS (.967). He’s also second in doubles (19) and RBI (53).
With a man Cozens’ size you wouldn’t expect him to be a threat on the bases. However, he is now 13 for 14 in stolen base attempts – the best stolen base percentage of anyone in the Eastern League with 10 or more steals.
Cozens, who just turned 22 a couple of weeks ago, was the Phillies 2nd round pick in the 2012 MLB Amateur Draft.
Now in his 5th minor league season, he is finally getting the respect and recognition he deserves. He’s had a linear, upward path through the minor leagues to this point and continues to improve with each passing season.
The only negative you can ascribe to Cozens 2016 season has been his strikeout percentage of 28.4%. That’s up from the 19.9% he posted at High-A Clearwater a year ago, and the 15.9% he posted in his time with Reading last season. In 1,750 minor league plate appearances, Cozens has a very high 24.2 K%.
For the month of May, Cozens was named the Phillies Minor League Player of the Month. With success in his 322 AA plate appearances, we could see Cozens getting the call to AAA at some point this season.
A promotion for Cozens could come once Williams gets promoted to the Phillies. My guess is that will happen around the MLB All-Star Game in mid-July. Williams play will determine when he gets the call.
With Maikel Franco, Herrera, and Joseph now already in the fold, and Williams and Crawford not far behind, the Phils will probably field five of their future position players in the season’s final month.
You can bet Cozens will be invited to Clearwater for Spring Training next year with the opportunity to win a starting outfield job, or at least prior to beginning the year at Lehigh Valley, just a phone call away from his big league debut.
The competition for Cozens should ultimately include Altherr, Cody Asche, Tyler Goeddel, Quinn and others. The manner in which Cozens is destroying Eastern League pitching this year, and the fact that he hits for power – a sorely needed commodity on the Phils, I’d place my money on him winning the job in the long run.