Phillies Call Up Rhys Hoskins
Earlier this week the Phillies announced they were moving their best pure hitting prospect from first base to left field to accommodate Tommy Joseph staying at first base. I have a lot of thoughts about what the move means strategically, but what is done is done. What that move does mean is that the Phillies are finally promoting Rhys Hoskins, just as an outfielder and not a first baseman. For the second year in a row Hoskins is one of the best hitters in minor league baseball, and this time he is doing it in a more neutral environment as opposed to the hitting paradise that is Reading.
Without talking about position or league context, we need to talk about Hoskins the baseball player. At the plate Hoskins features a simple swing, he has a bit of a leg kick, but overall is swing is quiet. He gets good loft with it, but it also isn’t a complete uppercut. Most of his contact is going to be to the pull side, but he does have the power to go the opposite way. When he first came up there were a lot of questions about his raw power, and they are mostly fair as his power is probably plus, maybe it is plus plus. What he has done incredibly well over the years is to refine his approach and pitch recognition. This has allowed him to get the most out of his raw tools, and so while his raw power doesn’t measure up to Dylan Cozens, he is able to match him in actualized production. Hoskins is mostly a fastball hitter, but he will crush mistakes over the plate. He has less frequently expanded the strike zone in the upper levels, but can still chase breaking balls. The complete package is one fairly light on weaknesses. This season he has reverse platoon splits, but only 123 PAs against LHPs so it is hard to read too much into his relative struggles vs them, given that he crushed them in 2016. This year he has walked more than he has struck out vs RHPs which is a stark improvement on last season where he had a 50 to 97 walk to strikeout rate vs same side pitching. Overall he should be an average hitter (.260-.270) with a good on base percentage, and he has the power to hit 30+ home runs a year with an equal amount of doubles. He might have a bit more ceiling than that if he can maintain his AAA strikeout rate, but I would expect it to regress back towards 20% from the 15.8% it is at right now.
Now we all know that stats matter in relative context. Hoskins currently has a .966 OPS in AAA, if that translated 100% to the majors he would still be 4th among major league first basemen. It would be insanely optimistic to expect Hoskins to translate all of his stats directly to the majors. Currently the bar for major league first basemen is very high. There are currently 18 first basemen with at least 200 PAs and a wRC+ greater than 120. We still have a month and a half left in the major league season and 16 first basemen already have 20 home runs. Those values are both within our expected outcome for Hoskins, but they do show that the dropoff is pretty steep if you can’t reach those thresholds (just ask Tommy Joseph). This gives us a decent range from about 4 (or 5 if you think Anthony Rizzo has a rebound in him) to about 18 where the separations are not huge. Every year a few players exceed expectations and get close to the top group, but you really end up with a chunk of first basemen worth about 2 to 4 WAR. That is about where Hoskins should reasonably settle in. A good BABIP and power year could push him towards the top and an unlucky year could push him towards the bottom. The more he can do things like keep his walks up and his strikeouts down, the more stable he will be in that range.
As for the ancillary skills, they aren’t going to really help Hoskins’ cause. He is going to be bad defensively in left field. He does not have a ton of range and he does not have the instincts or athleticism to make up for the fact that he physically is not going to be able to get to some balls. At first base he is fine. He is a solid arm, but he is not a great defender, but he isn’t going to be a liability either. As you would expect Hoskins is not going to add value on the base paths either. Maybe he steals 1-4 bases a year on sleeping pitchers, but not much more than that.
What this all means for the Phillies is that their lineup should be much improved. If Hoskins doesn’t fall flat on his face, he should be one of the Phillies’ best hitters starting tonight. Just because his WAR doesn’t project to be elite, doesn’t mean he won’t be a middle of the order threat. Success is not guaranteed though, and there is a long list of first baseman who have failed in the majors (ironically two of them in Yonder Alonso and Justin Smoak are suddenly having resurgences now). Just like he has throughout the minors, Hoskins is going to need to hit at a high level and keep making adjustments in order to be valuable to a major league team. For the short term that appears to be in left field for the Phillies, but Hoskins should be the Phillies’ everyday first baseman starting in 2018, and hopefully for many years after that.