Home page photo of Dylan Cozens and Mitch Walding celebrating a home run provided by Cheryl Pursell.
Videos provided by the Lehigh Valley IronPigs and the International League.
Heads up if you’re sitting in any of the outfield seats at Coca-Cola Park. Mitch Walding and Dylan Cozens are taking aim and giving away a lot of baseballs. On Saturday, Walding hit three three-run home runs in a doubleheader and Cozens hit two in the nightcap to give himself five games this season with two or more home runs. Two weeks ago, the pair had two home runs each in Lehigh Valley’s 8-0 win over Buffalo. Add to the pair Joey Meneses, who for much of the season has led the International League in home runs, and you have a powerful Lehigh Valley IronPigs lineup.
Cozens is especially interesting having recently returned from a stint with the Phillies where he was riding the bench and not getting many opportunities to play. In his first week in the majors, Cozens played in five games and went 2-for-9 (.222) before winding up on the DL with a quad injury and missed a little over two weeks. When he returned, he played in 13 games in just over two weeks and collected nine more at-bats without adding to his hit total. The Phillies optioned him back to Lehigh Valley on July 10th meaning that in a little over five weeks he had just 21 plate appearances.
It would have made sense for Cozens to have accumulated a little rust but he jumped right back into things when he joined Lehigh Valley after the Triple-A All-Star Break – just in time for Dylan Cozens Bobble-head Night – and homered in his first two games back with the Pigs. After taking an 0-for-3 the next day, Cozens hit two more in the game following that.
“I thought it would take a little while to get my timing back after not playing regularly and not getting many at-bats but I made a couple of adjustments and the timing is there,” said Cozens. “It was just getting ready earlier and putting the barrel on them.”
His first inning home run back on July 15th against Buffalo traveled 436 feet with an exit velocity of 113 miles-per-hour. On the second home run, Cozens worked a full-count and was just looking to make contact when he spotted a change-up and clubbed the ball out to straight away center field. Video of his first home run set up side-by-side with the home run that he hit in his first game back with the IronPigs shows just how locked in Cozens is and how he put an identical swing on both pitches.
As the video comparison shows, Cozens’ uses an identical leg kick as a timing mechanism, keeps his hands back and explodes through the zone.
Walding has been to Philadelphia and back a couple times without a hit at the major league level but he’s not letting that affect what he’s doing with Lehigh Valley. In Saturday’s offensive explosion, Walding hit a ball literally out of Coca-Cola Park in Allentown when he smashed a shot that went over the batter’s eye in center field. The home run was measured at an extremely conservative 468-feet, making it the third longest in the history of the park. Last season, Cozens hit a blast just to the right of the batter’s eye that crossed the road and was estimated at 469-feet for the second longest in the history of the park. Unfortunately, it’s a visiting player – Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s Tyler Austin – who has the longest in park history when he took one out to the left of the batter’s eye earlier this season that was measured at 473-feet.
With his struggles in the majors (0-for-14, 10 strikeouts, 10 games), you could understand how Walding, 25, would start to doubt his ability to perform above the Triple-A level but as he has developed on his way through the organization, it’s not hard to see that at some point, those struggles will end and the real Mitch Walding will come through. You feel like the minute that he gets that first hit, more will follow in rapid succession. At times, Walding can be his own worst enemy as pointed out in this Morning Call article by Tom Housenick.
Following their weekend series with Columbus, Lehigh Valley leads the International League in home runs with 114 home runs. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (110) and Durham (102) are the only other IL teams to have surpassed the 100-home run plateau so far this season. At the top of the individual home run list, two IronPigs – Cozens and Walding – are tied with Toledo’s Christin Stewart with 18 and Joey Meneses is next with 17.
Meneses has been the most consistent of the IronPigs this season and has an outside shot at winning the league’s triple crown. In addition to his home run ranking, he’s third in average at .311 and third in RBI with 60. Rusney Castillo (Pawtucket) leads the league with a .321 average and Brandon Barnes (Columbus) leads in RBI with 63.
While not a part of the power alliance, Dean Anna stretched his hitting streak to 17 straight on Sunday, giving him the longest hitting streak by an IronPigs player since Scott Kingery set the franchise record by hitting in 23 straight games last August.
With Lehigh Valley looking very much like a team that could not just make it to the IL playoffs but go deep into the playoffs, it’s going to be interesting to see how different the team may look after September 1st when the Phillies can expand their roster to 40 players. It’s possible that the Phillies may leave some players like Walding and Cozens with Lehigh Valley until their playoff run is complete. Meneses would figure to get a shot to make his MLB debut but if they can’t figure out a comfortable way to clear a 40-man roster spot, that might not happen.