In June 2015, Maikel Franco became a man on fire, crushing balls deep into the seats, causing excitement with every plate appearance.
In May 2013, Domonic Brown was that same man on fire, igniting the Phillies with his blasts, showing all the talent his potential had promised.
Today we have Rhys Hoskins, who in his first 14 major league games has slugged seven home runs. His numbers – .271/.407/.729 – are outstanding. Everyone is writing about him. Our goosebumps are showing.
It’s natural that we get excited about a prospect blossoming in front of our eyes. We count the outs until his turn comes up again. We check our phones if we’re away, wondering silently if the guy hit another home run (personally, three different times I checked my phone and yes, Hoskins homered). From afar this looks like Franco’s eruption in 2015, in which all of us figured a piece of the future was already locking in place. And from afar this looks like Brown’s surge in 2013, a wild month that ended with the guy leading the major leagues in home runs, causing my heart to flutter every couple hours.
But this is different. This feels closer to watching Ryan Howard in late 2005; we all knew the potential was great, and more, we all figured a better player was yet to arrive. I’m not saying Hoskins is hitting 58 home runs next season, but the early returns show that we may actually have a hitter here who looks like a true long-term talent.
What stands out most is the strikeout and walk rates. Currently Hoskins is sporting a 15.3% strikeout percentage and 13.5% walk percentage – superb numbers for a power-hitting first baseman. (For comparison, Howard had a 25.7% K rate and 15.3% BB rate in his 2006 MVP season.) This is a small sample size (a caveat we need to acknowledge for the entirety of this analysis), but Hoskins’ history in the upper-minors shows a player with rates consistent to his current work. In triple-A Lehigh Valley this year, Hoskins carried a 15.8% K rate and 13.5% BB rate. In double-A Reading in 2016, he had a 21.2% K rate and 12.1% BB rate. The discipline actually improved year to year, but even a 21.2/12.1 is solid for a power-hitting first baseman.
This isn’t to say Hoskins will keep this discipline throughout his early career. He’s looked foolish in a handful of appearances, including a bad three-pitch strikeout in the sixth inning Tuesday against Dan Straily where he swung at a diving slider about 10 inches off the strike zone. But balancing those pitches are several in which Hoskins has shown a keen eye – in his third-inning home run Wednesday against Justin Nicolino, he fouled off two pitches on the edge of the zone then took a changeup just off the plate for the third ball. In the early going he has shown great zone recognition, swinging at 25.3 percent of balls out of the zone (that would land him somewhere in the top-40 league-wide, if qualified, and is similar to Howard’s rate from 2004-09). That means fewer chances to make outs at the plate.
He’ll need to keep that going somewhat, as Hoskins is more of a fly-ball hitter (and he had been throughout his minor-league career). He’s admitted that his goal is to hit “high line drives”, rather than beams or grounders. And so far he’s keeping to that goal with 19 fly balls to 11 grounders and nine line drives. That ratio would put him in the same group as Joey Gallo, Cody Bellinger and Matt Carpenter, among the league leaders in fly ball rate.
If Hoskins can maintain a steadily lower strikeout rate while putting more balls in the air, the Phillies have a potential 30-40 home run candidate who can get on base at least a .350 clip, maybe closer to .370. That would put him, at least in his early career, in the company of players like Ryan Zimmerman and George Springer.
But that’s right now. Getting closer to players like Paul Goldschmidt would require him to continue at his pace throughout his career (also, his glove isn’t near that of Goldschmidt).
So we don’t yet know what Hoskins will be. There’s a possibility he turns into a top-three first baseman, but the floor looks to be that of a solid everyday contributor capable of being slotted in the middle of a first-division lineup.
And from the eye test, he definitely looks more capable of maintaining talent than Franco or Brown, all due respect. Hoskins’ discipline already has proven to be a positive skill, so when the power fades for a stretch – and it will – we’re likely to still have a valuable hitter in the lineup.
For now, though, there is absolutely no shame in letting those goosebumps stand up for a while. Drink in this stretch; see if Hoskins can keep it going for longer. This is an exciting moment for Phillies fans – it’s likely that we actually have something here, a player we can lean on just a little.