Rhys Hoskins' Historic Power Adds Yet Another Poster Child to MLB's HR Explosion

Danny KnoblerMLB Lead WriterSeptember 7, 2017

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 04:  Rhys Hoskins #17 of the Philadelphia Phillies in action against the New York Mets at Citi Field on September 4, 2017 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. The Mets defeated the Phillies 11-7.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

We think we know all about MLB prospects nowwho's No. 1, who's No. 2 and all the way down to who's No. 100.

Then Rhys Hoskins comes around and shows us we don't know as much as we thought.

He should have been on those lists during the years when he wasn't, and he should have been higher up when he did get noticed. We should have known far more about him, well before he showed up with the Philadelphia Phillies in the second week of August and started hitting home runs in just about every game he played. We should have known long before Hoskins became the first player ever with 11 home runs in his first 64 major league at-bats.

His name should have been familiar, not something that still gets mispronounced with regularity. It's spelled R-H-Y-S, it's pronounced "Reece," and his father gave it to him because he had a friend with that name and liked it.

Rhys likes it, too.

"I think the uniqueness of it is something not everyone has," he said.

It should make him easy to remember, but somehow Hoskins kept slipping past us. Not just us, but college coaches who didn't offer him a scholarship—credit to Sacramento State coach Reggie Christiansen, the one guy who did—and to major league organizations that didn't draft him out of high school and let him slip all the way to the fifth round of the 2014 draft when he was a college junior.

That was the Kyle Schwarber draft, the Trea Turner draft, the Michael Conforto draft, the Bradley Zimmer draft. It's perfectly reasonable that Hoskins didn't get picked in front of any of them. They were all well-known first-round picks, while he was a offense-first first baseman at a smaller school. He only hit 25 home runs across three full college seasons.

He was a good hitter even then, but to believe in him, you had to believe there was power in there that had yet to develop. Fortunately for the Phillies, scout Joey Davis believed.

"Joey Davis did a nice job with that one," said Ruben Amaro, who was the Phillies' general manager at the time.

"He did a tremendous job," said Marti Wolever, who was then the Phillies' scouting director.

What all of us are seeing in Hoskins now, Davis saw back then.

"I was hoping he'd maybe be a poor man's Paul Goldschmidt," said Davis, who still scouts northern California for the Phillies. "I knew he was big and strong and that he'd work at it. I knew he was a good hitter with good balance, and that he always had good command of the strike zone."

Hoskins quickly became popular with the Phillies' players and staff.
Hoskins quickly became popular with the Phillies' players and staff.Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

He is big (6'4", 225 pounds) and strong, and he did work at it. Hoskins listened when Phillies minor league hitting coordinator Andy Tracy suggested adding a leg kick to his swing. He went to Australia one winter and to the Dominican Republic the next to get extra plate appearances.

The leg kick allowed him to keep his weight on his back leg, and it gave him a rhythm that allowed him more time to identify pitches to hit. He learned to pick out pitches he could drive out of the park, and he began driving them with regularity.

At Double-A Reading last year, Hoskins hit 38 home runs in 589 plate appearances. At Triple-A Lehigh Valley this year, he was leading the International League with 29 home runs in 475 plate appearances when the Phillies called him up.

"A big thing is knowing who I am and what pitches I can do damage with," Hoskins said.

Going into this season, MLB.com still didn't list him as one of the top 100 prospects in baseball. Even at midseason, he had only made it to 69th on the list.

He's better than that.

He's better because in an era where home runs matter so much, he can hit them with regularity. Entering play Wednesday, he had as many as Giancarlo Stanton over the last 24 days (12), more than anyone else in baseball.

He's better because in an era where home run hitters can be all-or-nothing guys, Hoskins is more than that. He has nearly as many walks (17) as strikeouts (18), and he has a 1.195 OPS that reflects those walks, those home runs and his .319 batting average.

"He doesn't like to strike out," Christiansen said. "He's never liked to strike out. Some of these guys are OK with it. He's not OK with it. He texted me the other day and said, 'This guy struck me out, and he shouldn't strike me out.'"

Adding a small leg kick allowed Hoskins to get better rhythm in his swing.
Adding a small leg kick allowed Hoskins to get better rhythm in his swing.Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Yes, Hoskins still texts regularly with his college coach. He keeps in contact with Davis, the scout who believed in him. He regularly mentions the influence of his father, who taught him to play the game, and he thinks often of his mother, who died of cancer when he was still in high school.

"'I think if she was here, she'd be enjoying the heck out of all of this," he said.

He has the kind of personality that sticks with people who met him along the way, the kind that makes Christiansen and Davis stop what they're doing to catch nearly every one of his major league at-bats via MLB.com's phone app.

Hoskins has made a quick impact with the Phillies' major league staff, too.

"I've been so impressed with him," bullpen coach John McLaren said. "He's so well-grounded. When we first got him here, there was something special about him. I remember having the same feeling the first time I saw Trevor Hoffman. Or Alan Trammell. That's a pretty good comparison. He's so respectful of the game."

They learn more about him every day, about how he gave back some of his college scholarship money so Christiansen could add a much-needed pitcher, about how Davis became convinced Hoskins could make it when he saw him swing and miss against an Oregon State pitcher's 95 mph fastball.

"I wanted to see him really attack and let it go," Davis said. "It was a 3-1 count, and he swung like he wanted to hit it eight miles. I wanted to see that killer instinct, and there it was."

Davis had Hoskins better pegged than most, but even he got one thing wrong. In the report he sent the Phillies back in 2014, Davis listed Hoskins as "first base only," as in that's the only place he could play.

So even Davis was surprised when Hoskins played 20 of his first 26 major league games as a left fielder.

It was the position the Phillies had open after a few injuries. They had Tommy Joseph at first base. Hoskins had played just three minor league games in the outfield and hadn't played there since he was a college freshman—"He was not a good outfielder," Christiansen said—but that was the only way to get him in the lineup.

You know what? He's played the outfield just fine. He's shown so much aptitude that if the team wanted him to play there next year, Phillies outfield coach Juan Samuel said he has no doubt Hoskins could do it.

"He's a very smart kid," Samuel said. "He asks good questions. He throws to the right base. He picks up things quick."

He's brought life to a Phillies team that needed it. He's brought hope to an organization still struggling through a painful rebuilding process.

He's hit home runs at a pace never seen before.

How did we not see this coming?


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Danny on Twitter and talk baseball.


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