Royals’ Dozier among Futures stars who turned down other sports
SAN DIEGO — Dylan Cozens said his choice was simple. He could have played defensive end at the University of Arizona or signed with the Philadelphia Phillies.
"Look at the concussions and look at the injuries in football," the Phillies outfield prospect said. "You got a longer career here in baseball."
Cozens was among several former two-sport athletes in Sunday’s All-Star Futures Game along with Kansas City infielder Hunter Dozier, Atlanta infielder Dansby Swanson, Cincinnati pitcher Amir Garrett.
Rob Manfred has made youth baseball a top priority since becoming baseball commissioner last year, wanting the sport to be more proactive to attract top young athletes.
"Youth is a huge deal in terms of participation and attendance," he said.
MLB hopes future John Elways and Dan Marinos choose the diamond over the gridiron.
Dozier was quarterback for Denton High School in Denton, Texas, where football is king.
"I felt like I was more of a football guy in high school just because in Texas you kind of had to be," he said.
His trajectory changed during a junior year game against Little Elm, when he handed the ball off to a wide receiver, who threw it back to him on a trick play. Dozier’s collarbone was broken in three places, "basically shattered," he recalled.
Dozier played baseball at Stephen F. Austin, and Kansas City selected him with the eighth overall pick in 2013. The 24-year-old third baseman and outfielder was brought up to Triple-A Omaha in May, and he is hitting .341 for the Storm Chasers with nine homers and 30 RBIs in 35 games.
Still, on cramped minor league bus rides up to 16 hours long, occasionally he thinks about what an NFL career would have been like.
"But I’m extremely happy with the decision I made," he said.
Cozens had committed to Arizona to play defensive end, then signed with the Phillies after he was taken with the 77th overall pick of the 2012 amateur draft. The 22-year-old, 6-foot-6 and 235 pounds, has 24 homers, 75 RBIs and a .286 batting average in 85 games this year at Double-A Reading — but has 108 strikeouts in 329 at-bats.
"My dad always wanted me to play baseball. Just a longer career. Easier on the body. Play more games," he said.
"I was just planning on playing baseball. I really didn’t want to go to college," he added with a laugh. "I couldn’t tell them at the time with the draft going on."
Garrett, a 24-year-old left-handed pitcher, played for the Red Storm before the Reds. Drafted by Cincinnati in the 22nd round in 2011, he was a 6-foot-5 guard and forward for St. John’s in the second semester of the 2011-12 season, then started his baseball career in rookie-level leagues that summer. He went back for his sophomore season in Queens, then transferred to California State Northridge, sitting out the basketball season. He decided to stay with baseball full-time after going 7-8 for Dayton in the Class A Midwest League in 2014.
"I was getting older in the basketball world. But I was still young in baseball. I didn’t have a lot of innings on my arm or anything like that," he said. "My play that year basically made the decision for me."
He earned a promotion to Triple-A last month and pitched in his second straight Futures Game. With a fastball reaching 96 mph, he threw two hitless innings and induced a pair of double-play grounders.
Garrett has had to learn baseball’s unwritten rules of behavior, a subject throughout the sport as Bryce Harper’s generation takes over and tries to loosen a code of conduct where emotion can be frowned upon.
"The basketball mentality, I would say it’s a different world," Garrett said. "On the basketball court, I was aggressive. You could talk, mess to each other. It’s all within the game. But baseball, you can’t really do that here. You got to channel your emotions."
Swanson was captain of the basketball team at Marietta for two seasons.
"I’m 6-1. I’m too short, and I just knew that baseball would end up being the future," he said. "Reality hit me pretty hard."
Swanson was selected the top player of the 2014 College World Series as Vanderbilt won the title, was taken by Arizona with the first pick in the 2015 amateur draft, then was traded to Atlanta, his homestate team. The 22-year-old shortstop was bumped up to Double-A at the end of April and is hitting .269 with five homers and 29 RBIs in 57 games at Mississippi.
Unlike others in his generation, Swanson wasn’t put off by baseball’s languid pace.
"I know they say the games are too long. Well, you can’t really just fix that with the drop of a hat," he said. "I think if people can see and realize how good of an opportunity and how far it can take you, that will say a lot and do a lot for people. People just have to experience and have fun doing it."