SAN DIEGO - Dylan Cozens clutched the black bat in his hands like a toothpick and unleashed on a batting-practice fastball. Dozens of scouts watched from the stands Sunday afternoon at Petco Park, where Cozens displayed power to all fields before the annual Futures Game, a showcase for the game's top prospects.
His mere presence is arresting; Cozens, a former defensive end, is almost always the largest player on the field at 6-foot-6, 235 pounds. The 22-year-old lefthanded hitter has slugged his way to prominence while playing for double-A Reading, the team with the best record in organized baseball.
This week is a chance for Cozens, heralded for his strength, to flaunt it while away from the building that generates skepticism about his promise. After the Futures Game, he will fly to Akron, Ohio, to compete against a field that includes two teammates for the Eastern League home run derby. Then, it's the league's All-Star game, followed by a second-half chase for the home-run crown with Reading first baseman Rhys Hoskins.
Hoskins (25) and Cozens (24) rank atop the minor-league leader board in homers. That, some have attributed, is thanks to Reading's homer-friendly FirstEnergy Stadium. Are the hitters due for a promotion to triple-A Lehigh Valley?
"I trust what the guys up there are doing," Cozens said. "I've got no need to go to triple A. I'm just trying to do the best I can wherever they want me."
It could be that the Phillies are fine keeping the Reading group together for a championship run. There is something special, Cozens said, about the team. They have a .700 winning percentage through 90 games and have outscored their opponents by a staggering 153 runs.
"I've never been on a team in my life that has been so talented," Cozens said. "I've never seen this much talent in the system. I think we're absolutely stacked. We've got a lot of young guys that are going to be big-time players at the major-league level in years to come."
Cozens is not without flaws. He has not hit lefties. He has struck out 108 times in 378 plate appearances, but he has posted his highest walk rate (12.4 percent) at any level. Cozens, in a sense, could be the modern game's quintessential player: Almost half of his plate appearances have ended in one of the three true outcomes - walk, strikeout, or home run. He fouled out in his only at-bat in Sunday's game.
Cozens said he likes to watch video of Barry Bonds' swing. After studying Toronto's Josh Donaldson earlier this season, he adopted a leg kick.
"I like the power that he generates and he's not a real big guy," Cozens said. "I was thinking, 'I'm big; I could generate a lot of power if I did that.' I tried it out for a little bit. It worked, but I want to be shorter now."
So, it's a process. Cozens was joined Sunday at the Futures Game by righthander Ricardo Pinto, who has a 4.58 ERA in 17 starts at Reading and admitted his season has not gone the way he dreamed. Pinto, 22, has just 66 strikeouts in 961/3 innings with 102 hits allowed. He retired both batters he faced Sunday, both on deep fly balls.
The Reading team, Pinto said through an interpreter, has "really good chemistry." Cozens and Hoskins, in the middle of the lineup, are the main attraction.
"It's really incredible," Pinto said of Cozens. "He has great strength."
On Sunday, Cozens captivated the audience during batting practice. He hit a few into the visitors' bullpen, beyond the 396-foot sign in right-center field. He shot a laser to left field for an opposite-field homer. He launched more to right field, high fly balls that kept carrying.
He smashed nine batting-practice homers. No player, according to a count by a Baseball America writer, hit more. Of course, it was batting practice for an exhibition game. But it was another moment for Cozens to dispel the notion that Reading's ballpark has powered his surge.
"I still feel like there's a lot more learning to do," Cozens said. "There's a lot more in the tank I can show."