Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins has 11 home runs in his first 18 big league games; before him, nobody had ever reached 11 career homers in fewer than 23 games. And what a collection of dingers it’s been.
He’s hit fastballs, breaking balls, meatballs, mistakes, high pitches, low pitches, red pitches, blue pitches … since he debuted August 10, the 24-year-old Hoskins has homered in 14.5 percent of his plate appearances. Since the start of his home run binge on July 17, The Mighty Giancarlo Stanton has homered in 14.2 percent of his plate appearances. Hoskins is so hot that on Sunday, while playing out of position in left field, he turned a shoestring catch on a routine fly ball into a 7-4-3 triple play.
A fifth-round pick out of Sacramento State in 2014, Hoskins hit .319/.395/.518 across two levels of A-ball in 2015, then hit 38 home runs at Double-A last year, before following that up with 29 in 475 PA at Triple-A Lehigh Valley this season. Even if Hoskins was still in the minors, that would be encouraging for a Phillies team that hasn’t had a winning season since 2011, and is almost certainly en route to its fifth consecutive season of 89 losses or more.
And with a few exceptions, every bright spot since the 102-win season in 2011 has been short-lived. A similar home run binge in 2013 seemed to herald a breakout for former top prospect Domonic Brown, who is now almost exactly two years removed from his last MLB appearance. Cole Hamels no-hit the Cubs at Wrigley Field in 2015 and was traded to Texas before he could make his next start. Ace reliever Ken Giles was traded to Houston that winter for a package that looked like a steal when the deal headliner, Vince Velasquez, struck out 16 Padres in April 2016, but Velasquez hasn’t stayed healthy since. Shortstop J.P. Crawford was making a case for himself as the best prospect in baseball before he inexplicably forgot how to hit.
Not only is Hoskins a pleasant surprise, he’s putting up historic numbers by anyone’s standards. So even though this sentiment is precisely as ridiculous as it seems at first blush …
Would you put Rhys Hoskins in a package for either Mike Trout or Giancarlo Stanton? Or should the Phillies build around him? JUST ANSWER— 975 Middays (@975Middays) August 28, 2017
… it’s very, very easy to see where it’s coming from.
In three years in the Phillies’ minor league system, Hoskins never made a major publication’s global top-100 list, though he did sneak into the back half of this year’s midseason top-100 lists at both FanGraphs and Baseball America. That’s because first base prospects are, by and large, for suckers.
The thing about amateur first basemen—and make no mistake, that’s where Hoskins is going to end up long-term, no matter how much left field he’s played his first month in the majors—is that they have zero developmental room for error. That’s particularly true for mature right-handed mid-major college first basemen like Hoskins.
First basemen have to absolutely mash to provide significant value at the big league level. At 21, Hoskins had never faced anything tougher than Cape Cod League pitching on a consistent basis, and had a long way to go before he proved he had that in him. Along the way, Hoskins had to adjust from WAC pitching to professional pitching, then to Double-A, where most guys can throw strikes and break off the occasional good breaking ball. Then he had to adjust to the big leagues, where fastballs come in at 98 mph on the black, and sliders are heavier and spin faster than the core of the galaxy. If Hoskins had failed at any of those stops, he had no skills to fall back on: He has positional limitations, and being right-handed put him on the short side of the platoon advantage. But so far, he hasn’t slipped up.
That developmental arc is incredibly rare for a college first baseman, particularly a second-day draft pick from outside a major conference, but it happens. Paul Goldschmidt is one example, Ryan Howard is another, but beyond that, if you bet consistently on guys like Hoskins turning into guys like Goldschmidt and Howard, you’ll go broke very quickly.
Phillies fans have been very quick to jump on this type of player in the 15 years or so since Howard first entered the public consciousness, and so far the results haven’t been pretty. The Double-A Reading Fightin Phils play in FirstEnergy Stadium, where anyone with a pulse can hit 30 home runs, and in a normal season, some non-prospect first baseman does. Before Hoskins, there was Darin Ruf and Matt Rizzotti, and before Hoskins is through his first month in the big leagues, the pump is already being primed for Darick Hall, a 2016 14th-rounder out of Dallas Baptist, who could very easily end up in Double-A sometime next year.
Hoskins is a better prospect than those three, but how much better? Nobody really thinks he’s going to post an .800 slugging percentage for the next 15 years, but the power is legit, and he’s showing impressive plate discipline and bat-to-ball skills for a rookie. His 11 walks in his first 18 games are the most for a Phillies rookie in 94 years. Hoskins is only swinging at 41.2 percent of the pitches he sees, which is in the same neighborhood as selective hitters such as Goldschmidt, Joey Votto, José Bautista, Anthony Rendon, and Shin-Soo Choo.
He’s also making contact on 86.6 percent of his swings, putting him around high-contact hitters like Andrelton Simmons, Joe Mauer, Votto, and Rendon. On pitches in the strike zone, Hoskins is making contact 94.3 percent of the time, which would put him in the top 10 in baseball if he had enough plate appearances to qualify. Plate-discipline numbers tend to stabilize faster than other stats, and Hoskins’s early returns are encouraging to say the least.
With that said, 76 plate appearances are a snapshot in baseball. Hoskins has certainly done nothing to disprove the notion that he could hit cleanup on the next good Phillies team, but what we’ve seen is far from conclusive. It takes time for the league to feel Hoskins out, and vice versa, and the immediate success of rookie power hitters like Cody Bellinger—or dating back a couple years, Kris Bryant, Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, and Bryce Harper—has screwed up the curve to grade Hoskins. So by all means, pick him up for your fantasy team, if he’s still out there, and set an MLB.tv alert, but cautious optimism is still the wisest path.
Something we hadn't seen yet -- Hoskins a bit demonstrative coming out of the box with a little skip. Knows he crushed it. Guy's having fun. pic.twitter.com/D99p2INkxW— Ben Harris (@byBenHarris) August 28, 2017
Unless you’re a Phillies fan digging through the mud for a reason to feel good. In that case, go nuts, because if you’re looking for something to put a spring in your step, Hoskins fits the bill.
Stats through Sunday’s games.