On Thursday the Philadelphia Phillies promoted rookie Rhys Hoskins to the major league roster. He’s 0-for-6 in his first two MLB games but with two walks and a run scored. Hoskins has been outstanding in Triple-A this year and has nothing to prove in the minors, but how will they fit him into the lineup? Let’s take a look.
The Phillies drafted Hoskins in the fifth round in 2014 from Sacramento State University. He was a very effective college bat, hitting .319/.396/.518 over three seasons, but questions about his position and worries about how his swing would work at higher levels kept him from an earlier round. He hit .237/.311/.408 in his pro debut in the New York-Penn League, not horrid but not really answering the pre-draft questions either.
He came out ripping in 2015, crushing Low-A and High-A pitching at a .319/.395/.518 pace, showing good plate discipline and getting to his raw power frequently. The success continued and took another step forward in 2016: .281/.377/.566 with 38 homers for Double-A Reading.
Hoskins ranked sixth on the pre-season 2017 Philadelphia Phillies top 20 prospects list with the following comment:
6) Rhys Hoskins, 1B, Grade B-/B: Age 23, fifth round pick in 2014 from Sacramento State; hit .281/.377/.566 with 38 homers, 71 walks, 125 strikeouts in 498 at-bats in Double-A; raw power earns 55 grades but he got to it a lot in ’16; decent feel for the strike zone, will whiff some but also draws walks; lacks speed and flexibility, defense at first base is average at best, a problem in a league with no DH; ETA late 2017.
Scouting reports from 2016 emphasized changes in his swing enabling him to tap his strength more consistency than when he was drafted. On the other hand, skeptics pointed out that his home park at Reading in ‘16 is a great hitting environment. Indeed, he hit .292/.396/.636 at home but he was still solid on the road as well, .270/.357/.496, quite good by Eastern League standards.
Hoskins has silenced most skeptics in 2017, hitting .284/.385/.581 with 29 homers, 64 walks, and 75 strikeouts in 401 at-bats for Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He’s lowered his strikeouts compared to last year, without losing any power or walks, while sustaining the swing improvements that began in ‘15 and showing that his approach works at the highest minor league level.
Will it work in the majors? I’m inclined to think it will. Pre-season projections had some concerns about batting average and OBP but liked his power. Steamer projecting him at .245/.314/.433 and the more optimistic PECOTA predicting .247/.323/.470. Back in April I wrote that we should not “expect him to hit much higher than .250, but he can mash 20+ homers with sufficient playing time. At age 24, that gives up something to build on and by his late 20s he could be a highly productive slugger.”
That looks a bit underdone given his Triple-A output; I don’t think we have to wait until his late 20s; he should be productive right now if given the opportunity. His power/patience combination should be potent and I can see his batting averages rising as he gains experience.
The problem is opportunity: where do you play him? Hoskins is a natural first baseman, adequate enough but lacking the speed, athleticism, and arm strength to demonstrate obvious appeal at other positions. However, the Phillies already have Tommy Joseph at first base, who is only a year older than Hoskins, and of course there is no DH spot available.
Hoskins played a scant 27 innings in the outfield in Triple-A but started in left field in his first to MLB games. It is simply too soon to know if his outfield defense will be workable or not, but given his track record of exceeding expectations, perhaps it will be.