|Eli Ben-Porat’s Scouting the Minors Pitch by Pitch Series
Nov. 22, 2016: Swinging Strike %
Dec. 13, 2016: Power
Feb. 22, 2017: Modeling Infield Defense
April 18, 2017: Projecting Infield Defense
What if I told you there was a prospect out there who was 6-foot-6, 235, athletic enough in high school to be recruited to play defensive end in college, broke Paul Konerko‘s high school home run record (19-13), and posted three consecutive 20 stolen-base seasons, all capped with a 40-homer, 20 stolen-base season at age 22 in Double-A? Would you believe me that this prospect isn’t on anyone’s top 100 list?
Dylan Cozens, in my opinion, represents the starkest contrast between pure scouting and pure statistical evaluation.
Chris Mitchell’s KATOH, had him at No. 1, even with a projection as a corner outfielder.
Scouts will point to the obvious swing and miss in his game, as well as his challenges hitting off-speed pitches, a problem that will only be magnified in the major leagues. Others will point out that the 40 homers came at Reading, which artificially inflated his home run totals. His stolen base totals (and efficiency) are shrugged off, since he is only an “average” runner under way. In fact, most of what you would read about Mr. Cozens would indicate that the 40-20 season he just had was a complete fluke. I can tell you that with respect to the power, it was most definitively NOT artificially inflated by Reading, nor was it a fluke. Whether he will be a successful major league ballplayer is not a certainty, but his ceiling as a potential 40-home run masher who can play the outfield is considerably higher than his absence on top prospect lists would indicate.
Let’s look at some data.
Dylan Cozens led the minors in average fly ball distance… by a lot
I looked at minor league fly ball distance in December and discovered that in Double-A, among prospects who made the major leagues, the success rate of flyball distance leaders was phenomenal. The top fly ball distance hitters: Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, Bryce Harper, George Springer, J.D. Martinez, Kris Bryant, Carlos Santana, Kyle Schwarber, Paul Goldschmidt, sprinkled in with Scott Schebler, Andy Parrino, and Mike Olt. Keep in mind that this is selected for players who were good enough to play in the majors, but when mixed in with their flyball distance, it’s a pretty good list. Other than Olt, there isn’t a true bust there and a whole lot of really, really good players.
What about the ballpark?
FirstEnergy Stadium in Reading, Pa., is a 9,000-seat stadium that hosted its first regular season baseball game in 1951. It also didn’t artificially boost flyball distances.
FirstEnergy Stadium sits comfortable middle-of the pack when it comes to fly ball distance. What about for left-handed hitters?
Slightly farther down the pack. Clearly, the flyball distances Cozens accrued while playing at home were not inflated by measurement bias at his home ballpark. These data would suggest that concerns about Reading inflating his home run totals ignore the fact that he just plain mashed the ball.
|Batter_name||Age (Batter)||Distance in Minors|
Cozens is surrounded by a lot of hitters with legit, top-of-the-scale power; this list would suggest that Cozens in Double-A demonstrated 80-grade power in real baseball action. Let’s try to see what other players posted similar statistical seasons looking at the two most critical aspects of Cozens’ game: power and whiffs.
Homers/balls in play to SwStr% in Double-A
We see Cozens in the same ballpark as O’Brien, Telvin Nash (complete bust), Kris Bryant and Javier Baez, with Joey Gallo as a more extreme version. HR/BIP is a noisy statistic, so let’s see who Cozens looks like statistically when we cross FB Distance with SwStr%:
Flyball distance to SwStr% in Double-A
Here we see the same cast of players (minus Telvin Nash whose homers per balls in play were not supported by his flyball distance), as well as George Springer, Domingo Santana and Bryce Harper. In fact, Cozens appears to be about halfway between Bryant/Harper and Joey Gallo.
What can we make of this? That Cozens doesn’t have an unprecedented amount of swing and miss in his game. Further, if you compare Cozens to Gallo, other than the fact that Cozens was two years older than Gallo at Double-A (Gallo being only 20 at the time is significant), we see a player who hit for almost as much power, with significantly less swing and miss in his game. However, coming off his first season at Double-A, where he hit .232, Gallo ranked as the No. 6 prospect in baseball, according to Baseball America. Why is it that Gallo, with basically the same flaws as Cozens, is a top-10 prospect but Cozens is nowhere to be found?
Cozens took a real step forward in 2016
We see real growth from Cozens in 2016 as his fly ball distance jumped dramatically, with improvement to every part of the field, both at home and on the road. (Quick note here that his Double-A flyball distance includes a few fly balls from 2015, which is why the 2016 number is higher than what is shown above). His opposite field power was quite evident and could help explain why people are assuming he was just taking advantage of the short porch in left field. What these numbers bear out is true power-to-all fields, especially at home, though still potent on the road.
Here’s another look at Cozens’ home run distribution at his home park:
Cozens’ home run chart would suggest that he did make optimal use of his ballpark, hitting a lot of homers down the right field line to the pull side as well as down the left field line to the opposite field. However, when we take a closer look, we see that a lot of the oppo-field home runs are beyond the 370 mark, with at least five homers crushed over 400 feet to the opposite field, showing textbook, power to all fields. All this points towards a prospect with 80 power that is finally showing up in games.
Poor Start to 2017
Through May 10, Cozens has a poor .196/.270/.393 slash line with 46 strike outs in 126 plate appearances (36.5% K%). This includes a horrendous .130/.216/.391 April, which he seems to be coming out of with an encouraging .355/.417/.645 in May. While a relatively small sample size, it may suggest that scouts are correct to assume he won’t be able to fill the holes in his swing, however, on the other hand, in a similarly small sample size, Gallo is having a pretty solid start to 2017, as a more extreme version of Cozens. On a similar vein, Aaron Judge should teach us patience with big, strong power sluggers with a propensity to strike out.
Cozens is one of those prospects who slips under the radar. The data do not suggest that he should be a universally acclaimed prospect, nor should this article be misconstrued as an argument placing him in the upper echelon of baseball’s prospectariat (especially when taking into account his slow start to 2017). Rather, it makes the case that Cozens is probably a lot better than scouts are giving him credit for and likely belongs as a top 100 prospect. KATOH certainly thinks highly of him, as do the pitch by pitch data.
References & Resources
- Chris Mitchell, FanGraphs, “The 2017 All-KATOH Team”
- Eli Ben-Porat, The Hardball Times, “Scouting the Minors Pitch by Pitch: Power”
- John Towns, That Ball’s Outta Here, “Dylan Cozens: Why I’m Struggling to Buy-In to the Phillies Young Slugger”
- Matt Winkleman, Phillies Minor Thoughts, “Breaking Projections: How Dylan Cozens is Built to Appease KATOH”