In an attempt to plow into the collective mind of the Phillies fan base, Meghan Montemurro at The Athletic ran a survey. Fans should read the entire piece at that link. There is one player highlighted by the survey who I want to comment on in particular.
One of the questions asked “Who is your favorite current Phillie?” Rhys Hoskins finished fifth behind Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Aaron Nola, and Andrew McCutchen. He was just ahead of Scott Kingery in the polling results.
At the end of the 2018 campaign, such a poll would likely have found Hoskins as an easy second to Nola. Three players who were new to the ball club last season – one of whom only played the first two months due to injury – have quickly passed him in the hearts of the fan base.
Hoskins is a homegrown product. He was the club’s fifth round draft choice back in 2014 who proceeded to mash his way through the minor leagues. A .319 average with 59 extra-base hits and 90 RBIs in 2015. A 38-homer, 116 RBIs season at hitter-friendly Reading in 2016. Then another 29 homers and 91 RBIs while blitzing through Triple-A Lehigh Valley in 2017 en route to his big-league debut that summer.
He arrived in Philadelphia in that summer of 2017 on fire, and Hoskins just kept on producing with 18 homers and 48 RBIs over just 50 games. That performance resulted in a fourth place finish in the NL Rookie of the Year Award voting during a season in which he played in fewer than 1/3 of the Phillies games.
While his average dipped during his first full season in Major League Baseball in 2018, Hoskins still blasted 34 home runs with 96 RBIs at just age 25. Last year, however, was a clear step backwards.
The Phillies, expected to contend for the first time in eight years after upgrading their roster in the prior off-season, suffered through a disappointing summer. It resulted in a .500 finish and an eighth straight year out of the playoffs.
While many will point to the pitching as the primary culprit for that finish, Hoskins failures were also to blame. He played in 160 games, so health was apparently no issue. And he had both Harper and Realmuto to support him in the middle of the batting order.
Still, Hoskins slashed just .226/.364/.454 with 29 home runs, 85 RBIs, and 173 strikeouts. You can live with those K’s when the exchange is big-time run production. Harper struck out five more times in 23 fewer plate appearances. However, Harper also drove in nearly 30 more runs than Hoskins.
The fans were also asked a specific question on the 27-year-old: “How confident are you that, with a new hitting coach, Rhys Hoskins will bounce back?” Nearly 60% of the 900+ survey respondents were lukewarm or worse in holding such a belief.
Part of this result comes from the nature of Philadelphia sports fans. There is always a huge recency bias around here. Win a championship one year, but fail the next two? Watch how fast things turn into “What have you done for me lately?”
While Missouri may be the “Show-Me” State, Philly is very much a “Show-Me” city where sports is concerned. You want to win the hearts of Philly fans? Then you had best produce and win.
So, Hoskins is caught right now in both webs. The most recent season that fans have in their minds resulted in mostly failures as an individual player which contributed towards disappointment from his team. And even as he did well over his first year or so in town, his team was a loser.
I remember how Phillies fans reacted to Hoskins when he was first called up in that summer of 2017, and how affectionate they were towards him as recently as 2018. One poor season has him on a downswing. If you understand Philly fans, that is entirely understandable. He produced with no pressure as a young player with a losing team, but largely folded up when the pressure to win was on a year ago.
However, if new hitting coach Joe Dillon and new manager Joe Girardi can help him reach his full potential, something tells me things will turn around in a hurry. Hoskins is an extremely likable young man who genuinely enjoys being in Philadelphia. He and wife Jayme have made their home here.
“Something about being in this town, you understand the passion that these fans have. I don’t think they boo because they think that we stink, I think that they boo because they think that we can be better,” Hoskins told CBS Philly sports director Don Bell almost exactly a year ago.
In late January of this year, Matt Gelb at The Athletic wrote on Hoskins’ efforts to revamp his swing and his mindset heading into 2020:
“More often than not, I got away from my strengths,” Hoskins told Gelb. “I tried to chase what they were doing. I mean, we make our money off their mistakes. Good hitters don’t miss mistakes. They are so locked into what they do well or what they want to do in that specific at-bat. When they see a pitch there, they don’t miss. That was a lot of the constant struggle last year: Knowing what I do well, but being unsure whether or not I should be there or be where I think they’re going to go.”
The hoped-for positive results didn’t show up during Grapefruit League play down in Florida. Over a dozen games during spring training, Hoskins was hitting for just a .241 average with 14 strikeouts in 35 plate appearances (40%). On the plus side, Hoskins had produced five extra-base hits.
Hoskins commented on that performance per Corey Seidman at NBC Sports Philadelphia as the pandemic stoppage hit the Phillies and the rest of baseball:
“Towards the end of spring I was starting to get a little bit of rhythm with the adjustments I was making, which was frustrating to have it end. I haven’t hit a whole lot yet. There’s a lot of dry work that goes on, a lot of dry repetitions just to continue that muscle memory. But this just gives me a little bit of time to really make it feel normal. Things like the setup or the initial move. You don’t need a ball coming at you to really practice those things. Those repetitions happen probably hundreds of times per day, in the middle of the kitchen, the driveway, the garage, just trying to keep myself occupied.”
Hoskins is going to begin having plenty of contract incentive now. He is arbitration-eligible prior to next season. Assuming the Phillies do not ink Hoskins to a longer term extension at some point he will become a free agent following the 2023 campaign when he will already have reached age 30. In addition to helping push the team forward, producing big over the next couple of seasons is in his own self-interest.
Assuming Major League Baseball actually can get underway with a 2020 season, and it looks increasingly hopeful with each passing week, Hoskins is going to be a huge key to any success the Phillies may achieve. The potential to become a .260-hitting, 40+ homer, 100+ RBI, middle-order power bat is locked inside. It is up to Dillon and Girardi, but most especially Hoskins himself, to find the key to unlocking that potential.