Feature Photo: Phil Bickford, RHP, Giants
We take a longform approach to four prospect spotlights this week, as Mark A. Shreve, Dave DeFreitas, and Ryan Ozella report in from the fields with looks at Dylan Cozens (OF, Phillies), Phil Bickford (RHP, Giants), Michael Chavis (3B, Red Sox), and Luis Alexander Basabe (CF, Red Sox).
We’ve also posted new video of Cozens, Ricardo Pinto (RHP, Phillies), Rhys Hoskins (1B, Phillies), and Brady Lail (RHP, Yankees) in action from last week in our updated Prospect Video Library.
Double-A Prospect Spotlight
Perhaps the most impressive part of Dylan Cozens’ breakout season for the Reading Fightin Phils has been the impact of some subtle – and not-so-subtle – swing changes that are paying off in the form of improved plate coverage, increased bat speed, and some eye-popping improvement in his power numbers this year.
In 2015, Cozens used a slightly crouched, open stance with a moderate leg lift, and a slightly open plant foot at impact (a visual of which can be seen here: jump to 2:12 mark). The swing was conducive to a more pull-oriented approach, with the open front foot pulling him off the plate a bit, making it tough to cover the outer third of the strike zone, and making him prone to some roll-over outs.
The Cozens we have seen in 2016 features a squared-up and narrower stance with a much taller posture, refined over the winter with a 91 AB stint with Indios de Mayaguez in the Puerto Rican Winter League. He’s still got the slight forward press of the bat, with his hands at chest level before being pulled back when loading, and a moderate leg lift timing mech. to initiate the swing. But he now takes a slightly shorter stride, with his plant foot squared-up to the pitcher, a quicker weight transfer into the pitch, and a more upright impact position. He has a balanced finish weighted slightly onto the back foot as a result of the lift in the swing path. You can see his revamped mechanics, as well as a good visual of his squared-up stance and plate coverage below.
How is it working out for him? He’s now showcasing his raw athleticism more prominently, as he’s unlocked some newly-found bat speed thanks to a quicker upper-body and hip rotation that the taller posture and narrower stance now allows for, and he’s making hard contact with backspin and carry, and with some lift in the swing, showing easy power to all fields now. The improved plate coverage is also giving him ability step more directly into pitches and use his raw strength to drive pitches on the outer third into the gaps, vs. relying on last-year’s predominantly pull-oriented approach.
Overall, he adjustments are a marked improvement year-over-year, and he’s shown the ability to make pretty pronounced swing changes quickly. While he’s still got a long swing with big extension – not unusual given his massive frame – he’s not having any trouble turning on velocity. The swing-and-miss is still a part of his game (his K-rate is @29%, up from 2015’s 20% across three levels), but he is showing marginal improvement in his plate discipline, bumping his OBP from .336 in 2015 to .373 this year thanks to a slight improvement in his BB:K rates (29:90 in 2015 or 1:3 vs. 50:116 or 1:2.3 in 2016), which suggests he’s working deeper into counts this year.
The raw power numbers (25 HRs vs. a combined 24 from 2014-15, 29 2Bs YTD vs. 25 for all of ’15) will be tough for the Phillies’ front office to ignore for much longer.
Jon Lester (LHP, Cubs) put the Cozens-type profile best when discussing hitters with the Boston Globe on July 17, saying that “hitters are being taught more and more to hit the ball in the air. I know our hitters have that emphasized here. I know there are a lot more strikeouts too, so hitters are willing to strike out in exchange for a fly ball that has a chance to get out of the park.”
Cozens fits that profile to a tee. He’s slammed Double-A pitching since Opening Day, and now has a solid 400 at-bat sample size at Reading, so I’d expect him to be bumped to Triple-A in the next few weeks to see how his 2016 adjustments play up against more advanced pitching. – Mark A. Shreve
Single A Prospect Spotlights
Bickford, the Giants top-rated pitching prospect and two-time first-round pick (2013 & 2015), has a projectable frame that includes long legs and a high waist. He’s listed at 200 pounds, but that may be adding some to his slender body. The frame can continue to add strength and muscle without issues, and this added strength will only make him more durable for the grind of a full season. He showcases a loose, quick arm with a short circle arm action that allows him to get into position quickly. and at his best work downhill with plus extension. This extension gives the ball plus life that jumps to the plate.
My look was Bickford’s shortest outing of the season, and one where he did not have the double-plus stuff that other scouts have seen. He went only three innings, giving up 10 base runners (five singles, four walks, 1 HBP) and two runs while throwing 69 pitches. His timing was off, causing him to drag his arm behind him and not consistently going down the hill. The off timing caused him to open up and overthrow, and it led to an inconsistent release point. Even though his control was off, Bickford still escaped serious damage and flashed his quality stuff (four K’s), which was enough to keep hitters off balance and his team in the game.
Even with inconsistent command, Bickford challenged hitters with the fastball early and often. The fastball worked 89-to-91 mph (T93) most of the night, and it had different action to each side of the plate. When he worked arm side, his two-seam had late bore in on RHH’s that could sink under the hands as well. When he went glove side, the ball had some lateral cut that was late moving at the plate. His fastball was most successful when he pitched up in the zone. In this location, the pitch had added life and was the source of swing and misses. He was also able to run a couple two-seamers backdoor off the plate to the RHH’s, freezing the hitters and getting the punch out. Bickford’s offspeed were limited and inconsistent, but both the slider and changeup flashed as potential plus pitches and work even better when he’s spotting the fastball. The slider (78-to-83) had good ¾ action, snapping with tight break at it’s best, though there were others where he didn’t getting on top of the pitch and it would get loose and a bit slurvy. I only saw the pitch during the first inning, but it has the makings of being an out pitch for him. The change (80-to-82) was deceptive as he kept his arm speed and the pitch bottomed as it approached the plate. Again the looks were limited, but the pitch flashed plus, and has continued to develop as Bickford has moved up levels.
Overall, I can understand why the Giants are high on him and like the upside that he possesses. I think he’s still two full seasons away from The Show, but the body will continue to get bigger and stronger without taking anything away from his velocity and become the frame of a frontline starter. For him to reach that potential, he will need to showcase command of all three pitches, but barring injury I like his chances. I’d like to see him one more time before I write a full report, but seeing as he’s already thrown 86 innings across two levels this season (vs. 22 IP in his abbreviated first season), I wouldn’t be surprised if the Giants limit his innings to prevent arm fatigue and possibly get him ready for the Arizona Fall League. – Ryan Ozella
The 2014 first rounder for the Red Sox is back after missing over a month with a partially torn ligament in his left thumb, and while he still may be getting his timing down, the bat speed he showed in my look this week shows that he’s healthy. Chavis has a squat, powerful frame with slightly rolled shoulders and a thick lower half. At first glance he may not look like a great athlete, but the loose, easy actions he showed on both sides of the ball suggest at least average athleticism to go with above-average raw power and at least a 55-grade arm. He has a small hitch in his load and tends to open the hips early, which can cause him to work under the ball a bit, but his quick hands have been able to make up for it and still get the barrel through the zone in good shape. He stays fairly level and can really generate some backspin carry to the big part of the field and given his above-average raw power does not have to square it up to leave the yard. Overall, his hitting mechanics are pretty simple and low maintenance for the amount of torque he can generate. As he moves up and faces better pitching, I think guys that can locate fastballs in on him will give him trouble, but if he calms down the bat waggle and shortens the load, he has the strength and hand speed to get to those pitches.
The swing and miss has been his achilles heel in pro ball, and he did little to ease those concerns in his first full season last year, striking out at a 30% clip. That’s not overly surprising for a high school hitter who’s power potential got him drafted so high – wanting to prove the Sox right and hit everything out is a common theme for hitter with his skill set. However, he has managed to knock that K-rate down to just over 20% so far in 2016 and justified that improved approach in my looks with a couple good ABs. He was not facing particularly good pitching, but tracked the ball well off of a deceptive lefty, showing a concerted effort to be more selective. He wasn’t really tested at third base in my looks, but the hands look OK, and he has the arm to stay at the position. I hope to see more of him during this trip, but my first impression has him somewhere between Mike Olt (3B, White Sox) and Mark Reynolds (1B, Rockies). He missed all of May with the thumb injury, so other clubs may not have gotten to see much of him until recently, but I’m guessing the Sox are not done making moves, and Chavis would be a nice add-on piece in any future deal. – Dave DeFreitas
Basabe entered the 2016 season as the seventh-ranked prospect in the Red Sox’ farm system according to milb.com, and so far in 2016 has done much to prove himself worthy of at least that high of a ranking. Basabe switch hits, but sees most of his pop coming from the left side, and he looks more comfortable there overall. He doesn’t have a large frame, but has broad shoulders and a strong lower half. I don’t see him getting too much bigger, but he should add some strength and still maintain his above-average athleticism. I wouldn’t say he and Manuel Margot (CF, Padres) are the same type of player, but the bodies project in a similar manner.
While he is still showing some swing and miss (27% K-rate in 2016, and 26% in 2015), the power is starting to develop, and he is showing signs that he is learning the strike zone. He started slow, but has been on fire in the second half with a 1.032 OPS and .338 average. He’s up to nine HRs, four of which have come in his last 80 ABs after hitting 7 in all of 2015. So he’s still striking out, but he’s still managing to put up a .327 OBP thanks largely to the .409 OBP he’s posted since the All-Star break.
While the recent hot streak is likely above where he will ultimately settle offensively, this is more than just him finding holes and getting balls to drop – he is squaring balls up on a consistent basis, something that is a product of him learning the strike zone and getting better pitches to hit. It is relevant to note that many of the upper level pitchers in this league have been promoted in recent weeks so he may be catching a little bit of a break in the competition, however the plate discipline is a sign that he is able to make adjustments and could be starting to utilize his tools.
I did not get to see him run much in my looks, however he has a very athletic gait in center field and the 15 bags he’s stolen are a good indication that he is at least average. At first glance it looks like he should stay in center field – on a ball in the right-center field gap he made a nice play to cut it off and showed feel to get into a good throwing position before firing a strike to third base to almost nail the runner going 1st-to-3rd. The arm works well, he stays on top with a clean release and 60-grade arm strength.
The word is that Basabe had not played much baseball growing up and he was said to be incredibly raw when he signed as an IFA in August, 2012. He is still young for his current level (he won’t be 20 until the end of next month), so to see him putting things together is a very good sign. He still has a lot to prove and A-ball is a long way from Fenway Park, but if the progression continues it will make him a big part of the next wave of Red Sox hitting prospects. – Dave DeFreitas
News and Notes
- Mariners first-round pick Kyle Lewis (OF, Mariners, Short-Season A Everett, Northwest League) is out for the remainder of the season, and possibly longer, after suffering a serious knee injury following a home plate collision in a July 19 game, according to the seattlepi.com’s Adam Lewis.
- It’s another lost season for Hunter Harvey (RHP, Orioles, Class A Aberdeen, NY-Penn League) as the Orioles’ right-hander will undergo season-ending T.J surgery, writes Bill Baer of Hardball Talk.
- Andrew Benintendi (OF, Red Sox, Double-A Portland, Eastern League) is getting some reps in left field, possibly a precurser to a late-season call-up to the Red Sox, writes Jen McCaffrey at masslive.com.