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Rhys Hoskins, Dylan Cozens enter 2018 on different paths

Once united by tater mashing, the Bash Brothers are facing individual futures.

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Philadelphia Phillies Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the summer of 2016!

Internet activists desperately warn the public of the dangers of female Ghostbusters. Justin Timberlake repeatedly informed us over the radio waves that we can’t stop the feeling. The general state of things has us as a nation turning to look at overhead monitors and grimly mutter as one, “My god... that’s Jason Bourne.”

Elsewhere in the Eastern League, Rhys Hoskins and Dylan Cozens are delivering a Phillies storyline ravenously craved by the fans watching the 71-win team at the major league level: together, they combine to bring fireworks to FirstEnergy Stadium on a nightly basis, partially because of their god-given slugging instincts, and partially because it’s sort of an easy stadium to hit a baseball out of. In any case, by the end of the season, they quite easily became known as the Bash Brothers, knocking a comprehensive total of 78 dingers and 241 RBI for the season.

It became all too natural to mash Hoskins and Cozens into a single entity of pitch-crushing potency (they even homered on the same night a lot of the time), but as they aged out of AA and into the rest of their careers, it has become easier to parse out the differences in the approach of the two sluggers and dictate the path each will travel down, without significant development or detriment following the 2018 pre-season.

Spring training doesn’t matter. It’s a six-week baseball purge, in which all laws are lifted and players are free to commit whatever baseball crimes they wish with no fear of reprisal; except for not making the team, of course. But even then, they leave camp and join a bench or a bullpen or a AAA squad somewhere, and the summer continues as though we didn’t just watch Cameron Rupp strike out on a pitch that bounced up to the plate. This is the case because, as we’ve seen countless times, a player who doesn’t put up great numbers in the Grapefruit League can still have a great season, and alternatively, Jake Fox led all of baseball in pre-season home runs in 2011 with 10, made it into 61 games for the Orioles, and has not played in a MLB game since.

This caveat is of course disintegrated when we need spring training performances to fit into a narrative we are trying to establish, which in this case is that with Rhys Hoskins so firmly entrenched as the future of the franchise, his former slugging colleague, Dylan Cozens, is having a hell of a time finding his way: Hoskins has become renowned for his mature plate approach, while Cozens maintains his reputation as a low BA/high SO/many HR-type hitter. It’s not that it boils down to Rhys = good, Dylan = bad. It’s just that since that magical summer of ‘16, they’ve become a lot more familiar to the people watching, and the obstacles ahead of both are a little more clear.

The home run has always been Cozens’ most prominent tool. He ended his high school career at Chaparral High School in Arizona with a walk-off bomb that helped him shatter the school’s previous record (held by Paul Konerko) with 19 in 33 games. In the summer of 2016, he hit 40 home runs, the highest Eastern League total since 1981. While rich in many offensive categories, he also struck out 186 times. Last year, in 134 games with the IronPigs, he hit 27 home runs and struck out 194 times. There is far greater discrepancy between the stat columns for Cozens; he is a fairly readable hitter when it comes to his numbers: He is up there to swing, to the point that he made almost 200 outs at the plate in one season.

Entering today’s game, Cozens was 3-for-spring. He’d made it into seven of the Phillies’ 11 games, which is about what you’d expect for a guy the Phillies are trying to give as much space as possible to do his thing, but he was leading the team in strikeouts with seven in 17 AB. His near future is already set.

Hoskins has had a subdued spring, too; before today’s game, he’d gone 2-for-14 and was just one strikeout behind Cozens for the team lead. The difference was, he’d hit a home run and worked three walks (Cozens has none of either); and of course, Hoskins has some baseball history behind him from two months with the big club last season, as well as a winter of publicity fueled by his own team, which is ready to canonize the 24-year-old as the next face of the franchise. His challenge this year will be facing a league that has gotten to know him a little bit and battle the common issues of a sophomore campaign following a brief rookie “season.” He’ll also be adjusting to the official position shift from first base to left field, and has been working with outfield coach Andy Abad to get his body to, as he says, “do something it has never done.”

Cozens is a more aggressive and less established hitter for whom clearly there is some work to be done. Did I mention his numbers against left-handed pitching? They’re not great: He hit .194 against them in 139 AB last season and .197 against them in 141 AB in 2016. If he is attempting to make some serious changes to his approach this spring, then there has been difficulty in the transition, because his numbers make him look a lot like the Dylan Cozens who has yet to crack a major league roster. It’s clear Cozens can benefit from some guidance—he seems like the perfect candidate to benefit from Matt Stairs’ hitting insight and confidence, a guy whose career was built on swinging as hard as he could—as last year in the pre-season, he mentioned that Andres Blanco had been “a good guy to follow.” This year, Charlie Manuel and new Phillies hitting coach John Mallee have stepped in, trying to get Cozens to use more control, rather than brute force, while executing his swing. In any case, the IronPigs are ready for him to come home, as he’s getting his own “Gobblehead” on July 12.

Cozens is finding himself in a position that fits one of the two forms a young Phillies hitter is taking these days: Someone who broke out offensively on a lower level and saw that success translate in some form to the big leagues; or, someone who did the former and not yet the latter. Which is why 2018 is a development year for the Phillies: to see if the Maikel Franco’s, the Scott Kingery’s, and the Dylan Cozens’s are the guys they’ve shown they can be for blips, stretches, streaks, or evenings with a new set of challenges thrown at them. It will be interesting to see, too, how Hoskins responds to being the Chosen One for a full season. He has embraced the role thus far, keeping a steady head on his shoulders, but pressure mounts and stress needles over 162 games. While Hoskins may be the more fully formed of the two sluggers now, the challenges he faces will have an affect on him as well.

This afternoon, Hoskins crushed a hanging breaking ball over the fence. Cozens went 0-for-3 with 2 SO. Regardless of how things play out for both young sluggers, the Bash Brothers made a powerful enough impression on fans in 2016 that it will take more than a sluggish start to the spring to derail the idea that the Phillies are sitting on two power hitters of the future.