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Cozens earns Top Offensive Player MiLBY

Joe Bauman winner had 125 RBIs, 106 runs scored, 21 stolen bases
October 27, 2016

The power alone was enough for a historic season.

Sixth-ranked Phillies prospect Dylan Cozens set a Reading record with 40 homers, the most by an Eastern League player since 1981, and won the 2016 Joe Bauman Award as the Minor Leagues' long ball leader.

Yet that most obvious and widely discussed facet of his game was only part of what made him the MiLBY winner for Top Offensive Player. Whenever Cozens came to the plate for the Double-A Fightin Phils this season, there was a decent chance the 22-year-old outfielder was going to impact the game in a big way, whether or not he hit the ball out of the yard -- which, to reiterate, he did every 13.025 at-bats.

Fans' Choice: Hunter Renfroe, El Paso

Like Cozens, Padres prospect Hunter Renfroe showed an ability to hit for both contact and power. He batted .306/.336/.557 with 30 homers, 34 doubles, 105 RBIs and 95 runs scored in 133 games for the Triple-A Chihuahuas. His efforts earned him the Pacific Coast League MVP award, and he helped El Paso to its first PCL championship. Renfroe, a 2013 first-round pick, put together his finest season yet and earned a late September callup to the big leagues, where he hit .371 with four homers and 14 RBIs in 11 games. Voting results »

"For Dylan, you have to credit his consistency throughout the year. At the beginning of the year, he was at a pace [it seemed] he couldn't keep up, but he stayed consistent," Reading hitting coach Frank Cacciatore said. "He went through a little funk at the beginning of August, but when we needed to make a push to get into the postseason, he lit it back up and continued into playoffs. And he had a pretty good playoffs, too."

On top of his home runs, the Eastern League MVP led the Minors with 125 RBIs, 308 total bases and 81 extra-base hits, led Double-A players with 106 runs scored and a .591 slugging percentage and led the EL with 38 doubles while placing in the top 25 in the circuit in batting average (23rd, .276), on-base percentage (T-22nd, .350) and stolen bases (12th, 21). In four postseason games, he was 6-for-15 (.400) with a homer and three doubles.

"I knew I was capable of having a year like this," the 2012 second-rounder told after hitting his 36th and 37th homers. "I mean, I'm just trying to go out there every day and do my best. That's all I really care about."

Even as he produced consistently from the beginning of the season to the end, he found ways to get better over the course of the year.

"Things that aren't mentioned much -- his defense, his baserunning and his basestealing -- he really improved on," Cacciatore said. "From a developmental standpoint, he definitely made a lot of strides toward becoming a complete player.

"At the beginning of the year, he thought he could [cover all of the plate at once], and the pitching told him he couldn't. He made really big strides and got to where he was able to work his way back in counts and still be a threat with two strikes."

Tyler Beede, the Giants' top pitching prospect and EL ERA leader (2.81), witnessed that first-hand. The final time the 23-year-old right-hander faced Reading on Aug. 17, he carried a shutout into the sixth inning and had a couple things working for him against Cozens in their third meeting of the day, when Cozens hit a tying homer.

"I struck him out the first two times I faced him that game, so I was feeling really confident," Beede said. "I got ahead [1-2] and then I fell behind and it was 3-2, and I threw him a changeup.

"At the time, I thought it was the right pitch selection, but he was able to stay back and he got the barrel on it. When he gets the barrel on the ball, it's going to go a long way. The kind of hitter he is, even if you get him out in front with his front foot, he's still able to stay back [with his upper body] and put the ball over the fence."

Although the Flying Squirrels wound up with a 2-1 win, that at-bat left a strong impression on Beede, against whom Cozens was 4-for-12 (.333) with that homer, a double, three RBIs and three runs scored. Beede struck him out five times.

"I'll take it," Beede said of the strikeouts. "He's a guy you certainly have to be careful pitching to. Facing him, if you make all quality pitches, you're going to get him out, but if you make one mistake, you're going to pay for it. And more so with Cozens than anybody else in that lineup, I wanted to stay away from him. You want to make him get himself out. If you try to go inside or make a perfect pitch, you're going to get yourself in trouble.

"He was swinging well all year, so you could never take a break, never give in to him -- 2-0, 3-0, you have to make a quality pitch because he's going to be swinging [if you catch too much of the plate]."

To Cacciatore, the way Cozens stayed with that at-bat after falling behind was a good indication not only of how far the young slugger progressed during the year but also of his potential to be even better.

"For me, the natural ability is there," Cacciatore said. "He can get fooled and still square up a ball, and all the physical things improved and got better, but the biggest thing for me is developing a hitting plan and sticking to it, and the way he did that. He's not afraid to get to two strikes. You go [into at-bats] with a hitting plan, and if the pitcher changes things up on you and gets a quick strike on you, do you panic after the first strike or do you stick with the plan?

"He sticks with the plan. He can shorten his swing late in the count and still be a threat. Other guys shorten up to get a base hit, but he can still reach the fence in the opposite part of the ballpark. He's learning that he can do that, and he's not giving up his abilities."

That, Cacciatore said, is what will help Cozens continue to produce eye-popping numbers.

"Once he continues to gain confidence and really understand he doesn't have to finish any at-bat real early, he's got a real good chance to have a good, high average," the hitting coach said. "I think he's real capable of being a .300 hitter. That goes together with his power, so if you look at his .277 [average] and project how many more hits he would have to make that .300, some of those hits are going to be doubles, triples and home runs. All of his numbers are going to be better."

Of course, to get there, the Arizona native is going to have to put in some work. Given his track record, that shouldn't be a problem. After his incredible year, he traveled to the Dominican Republic to suit up for the Aguilas Cibaenas in winter ball. And it was hard work that helped him go from hitting eight homers last year to 40 this season.

"He wasn't afraid to work at it. His work ethic just got better and better and better, and he realized his success correlated to his work," Cacciatore said.

"I could tell you that I saw his potential [last year and in Spring Training], but turning potential into performance can be very difficult. Everybody saw his potential; he knew he had the potential. It's baby steps with the everyday work, doing a little more, the way we structure our work as an organization, and Dylan bought into the whole package and he's been doing it a couple years. I think that work this year and the culmination of stuff he did with other guys in the past, it really came together."

Cacciatore said he doesn't think Cozens is done turning heads, either.

"Next year in Triple-A will be a challenge, but I think he can meet the challenge. He buys into the work and he's a gifted athlete, and when you add those things together we might have something," he added. "When you're in Double-A, you know you're close, but once you get to Triple-A, you want to be in the big leagues. He's going to put in a lot of effort, and I think he might surprise a few people and put up the same kind of numbers."

Josh Jackson is a contributor to Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @JoshJacksonMiLB.