Remembering the Hoskins/Cozens debate

Dylan Cozens/Mitch Walding (Photo by Cheryl Pursell)

Mitch Walding (L) and Dylan Cozens (R) celebrate a Cozens home run earlier this season. (Photo by Cheryl Pursell)

It was the summer of 2016 and fans of the rebuilding Phillies looked to Double-A Reading for promise of the future as two young sluggers pounded opposing pitchers, literally left and right. The right-handed hitting Rhys Hoskins and left-handed hitting Dylan Cozens were putting on a show, combining for 78 home runs and 241 runs batted in. In addition to the power, both hit for average, with Hoskins batting .281 and Cozens finishing the year at .276. 

Fans and pundits debated who would be the better player long-term. If there was a deciding factor, some would point to the fact that Cozens also had some speed and had stolen 21 bases that season. The following season both became members of the IronPigs lineup and the home runs continued to fly out of ballparks, as the lefty/righty duo combined for 56 home runs and 166 RBI. While the home run numbers were similar, the two began to separate when it came to average and on-base percentage. Hoskins hit .284/.385, while Cozens managed just a .210/.301 line. Hoskins had moved ahead in the battle, thanks primarily to an ability to make contact and avoid strikeouts, having whiffed 75 times in his first stint with Lehigh Valley while Cozens logged 194 strikeouts. 

The two also began to separate in the area of attitude. Hoskins was well liked in the clubhouse and Cozens carried himself with a chip on his shoulder, preferring to stick to himself. His biggest interactions with teammates came in the form of dugout and clubhouse fights and he quickly garnered a reputation as a bad teammate. One of the bigger blow-ups came when Cozens and fellow outfielder Nick Williams wound up crashing through a ping-pong table in the IronPigs clubhouse on Memorial Day of 2017. The Phillies hoped that a little maturity would eventually fix the attitude and to a degree, it did, but Cozens never became what others would call a good teammate. 

In September of 2017, Hoskins got the call to Philadelphia, while Cozens was left behind as the Phillies attempted to send a message to him about his attitude. Cozens returned to Lehigh Valley in 2018, while Hoskins became a mainstay in Philadelphia. Later in 2018, Cozens would make his major league debut and play 26 games for the Phillies, hitting just .158. 

This season, Cozens was again back at Triple-A and had played just 23 games when he suffered a foot injury that required surgery. The team announced he would be out for the season, but Cozens took to Twitter and insisted he would return to play in 2019. Whether he could have physically done so was negated last week when the Phillies cut ties with Cozens and released him to clear a spot on the 40-man roster. 

The move came along with two other transactions, both of which cleared roster spots for players who had been acquired in trades or signed as free agents. The two other moves involved a pair of IronPigs players who at one time were also highly thought of prospects.  

Pitcher Yacksel Rios, who had been up and down between Philadelphia and Lehigh Valley, was placed on waivers and claimed by the Pittsburgh Pirates, ending his Phillies career. Third baseman Mitch Walding was also placed on waivers and went unclaimed, continuing his Phillies career with Lehigh Valley. 

Over three seasons, Rios made 58 relief appearances with the Phillies, posting a 6.38 ERA in the majors. Walding played in 15 games with Philadelphia over the past two seasons, hitting .053 (1-for-19) and has regressed offensively with Lehigh Valley, where he is hitting just .206 this season in 90 games. 

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