Rhys Hoskins Can Shake Bryce Harper Sidekick Label as MLB's Next 50-Homer Star

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistMay 2, 2019

PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 28: Rhys Hoskins #17 of the Philadelphia Phillies goes over his swing in in the dugout during a game against the Miami Marlins at Citizens Bank Park on April 28, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Bryce Harper is one of the most famous players in MLB. He's a former National League MVP in the midst of his prime. But in 2019, he hasn't even been the best hitter on his own team.

That title belongs to Rhys Hoskins.

The 26-year-old Philadelphia Phillies first baseman has mashed in the early going. Through 29 games, he leads the Phillies in home runs (nine), is tied for the lead in RBI (25) and owns a 1.011 OPS.

Those nine dingers in 29 contests put him on pace to reach the still-hallowed 50-homer mark. He cracked another one Wednesday in a 7-3 win over the Detroit Tigers.

He's raised his hard-contact rate from 34.5 percent in 2018 to 43.7 percent this season. He's also lifted his walk rate from 13.2 percent to 16.4 percent.

He's stinging the ball with increased authority. He's been more discerning at the plate. And he's also getting the beanball treatment from opposing pitchers, an ostensible sign of "respect."

On April 23, New York Mets reliever Jacob Rhame twice went way up and in on Hoskins, including this scary offering:

Rhame was later suspended for two games, but not before Hoskins got the last laugh with a booming two-run tater and this epic, 34-second slow-trot against Rhame:

That's top-shelf trolling that surely made bat-flipping Bryce as proud as a papa bear.

"A couple of guys kind of said the phrase, 'Don't poke the sleeping bear,'" Hoskins told reporters after his two-run blast. "Seemed to be the last couple innings was a pretty good indication that may have happened."

Hoskins finished fourth in NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2017 by posting a 1.014 OPS with 18 homers in 50 games. He hit 34 home runs and tallied 96 RBI last season.

It wouldn't be accurate to call his 2019 surge a breakout. But it could be a breakthrough to the next level of stardom.

His skipper seems to think he's already there.

"He's one of our leaders," manager Gabe Kapler told reporters in early April. "He is in many ways the heartbeat of our club."

That's high praise, especially considering the Phils signed Harper to a record-breaking 13-year, $330 million pact over the offseason.

Alex Brandon/Associated Press

Lately, the infamous Philadelphia boo birds have chirped at their shiny, high-priced superstar. Harper hasn't been horrible. He has six homers, 20 RBI and an .848 OPS through 108 at-bats as a Phillie. But he hit only .232 while striking out 35 times in April.

If Hoskins keeps swatting like he has been, he could soon shed the label of Harper's sidekick. Yes, Harper has the hardware, six All-Star appearances and name recognition. So far, though, Hoskins has the numbers.

Rather than Robin to Harper's Batman, he could become Batman to his other Batman. Or maybe Mickey Mouse to his Donald Duck:

The fan goodwill should flow toward Hoskins. While Harper is the new guy with the swollen bank account and stratospheric expectations, Hoskins is a homegrown product and 2014 fifth-round pick making $575,000 in 2019.

"I don't feel like that's a responsibility," Hoskins told reporters when asked about being a club leader and lineup anchor. "An opportunity and a privilege, sure. But again, I don't feel like any guys feel like they have to do it all or be the guy. Because if you don't, somebody else will."

Entering play Thursday, the Phillies sat in first place in the deep NL East, two games up on the New York Mets. It'll be a dogfight to the end in a crowded division that features viable contenders in the Mets, Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals.

If Philadelphia prevails, it's a near certainty Hoskins' bat and burgeoning "heartbeat" leadership will play a pivotal role.

Goodbye sidekick; hello squad-leading, possible 50-homer star.

      

All statistics and contract information current entering play Thursday and courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted. Some advanced stats current entering play Wednesday.

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