The owners of an MLB-worst 48–81 record, the rebuilding Phillies haven't had much to cheer about this year. But over the past three weeks, rookie leftfielder Rhys Hoskins has come out of nowhere to provide a power display that hasn’t been seen at the big league level before, even in this home run-saturated season.
The 24-year-old Hoskins debuted on August 10, going 0-for-2 in a 10–0 loss to the Mets. He didn't collect his first major league hit until his fourth game and 14th plate appearance, getting on the board with a single off the Mets' Christopher Flexen during another loss. The fun began on the next day (August 14), when he homered twice off a pair of Padres' pitchers, and in the 13 games since, he's added nine more homers, including one in each of the last five games. With that, Hoskins has become the fastest player in baseball history to reach to nine, 10 and 11 home runs
His progress is interesting to chart for the familiar and unfamiliar company he's joined:
• Through 10 games—the beginning of his eight-homers-in-nine-games binge—Hoskins was one of 16 players to hit four home runs; the Braves' Evan Gattis (2011) was the most recent player to do so. Eight other players have hit more: the Rockies' Trevor Story leads the pack after hitting seven in ten games last season.
• Hoskins was one of nine players to have five homers in 11 games. The Rangers' Taylor Teagarden (2008) was the most recent. Story had seven while the Pirates' Dino Restelli (1949) and the Blue Jays' Carlos Delgado (1994) finished with six.
• Through 12 games, Hoskins was one of four players with six home runs, after the Orioles' Curt Blefary (1965), Delgado and Teagarden; they trailed only Restelli and Story with seven.
• Through 14 games (he went homerless in game 13), Hoskins was one of three players with seven homers, along with Restelli and Hoskins, with only Story (eight) ahead of them.
• Through 15 games, Hoskins matched Delgado and Story with eight homers, one more than Restelli and the Dodgers' Matt Kemp (2006).
• Through 16 games, Hoskins took sole possession of the lead with nine homers, with Delgado and Story stuck on eight, and six payers at seven, including 2017 Dodgers rookie sensation Cody Bellinger.
• Through 17 games, Hoskins' 10 homers were two more than Delgado and Story, and three more than any other player.
• Through 18 games, Hoskins' 11 homers are two more than the Red Sox's George Scott (1966) and three more than the Giants' Dusty Rhodes (1952), Delgado and Story.
That's quite the mixed bag of stars and scrubs. Restelli hit just five homers in 60 other games as a rookie, returned to the Pacific Coast League the next year, and homered just once in 21 big league games in 1951 before returning to the minors. Rhodes spent seven years as a part-time outfielder with the Giants, the highlight of which was a 4-for-6, two-homer performance during their 1954 World Series championship. Blefary won AL Rookie of the Year honors in 1965 and was similarly productive in each of the next two seasons, but toiled in mediocrity for the rest of his eight-year career.
Scott hit 271 homers in a 14-year career, leading the AL once, making three All-Star teams and winning eight Gold Gloves. Delgado bashed 473 homers in a 17-year career but somehow made just two All-Star teams. Teagarden played in just 180 games in eight seasons as a backup catcher. Gattis has become a reliable thumper, homering 113 times in his five seasons with the Braves and Astros. Kemp has hit 255 homers in a 12-year career, leading the league once, making two All-Star teams and winning a pair of Gold Gloves before injuries took their toll on his speed and mobility. Story hit 27 homers in 97 games as a rookie before tearing ligaments in his left thumb, but this year he's struggled to a 79 OPS+ while adding another 19 homers. Bellinger appears to have sewn up the NL Rookie of the Year award and has a shot at Frank Robinson's rookie record of 38 (he's at 34).
As for Hoskins, he's hitting .297/.408/.828 in 76 plate appearances. He didn't exactly come out of nowhere; he was a fifth-round 2014 pick out of Cal State Sacramento (a/k/a Sacramento State). After clubbing 38 homers at Double A Reading last year, he entered 2017 ranked fourth among the Phillies' top 10 prospects according to ESPN, sixth via Baseball America, and tied for 10th via Baseball Prospectus. All of them noted his hit tool, but ESPN was skeptical about his power, and both BA and BP were less sanguine about his ceiling. Despite his power, Hoskins’ lack of speed, below-average arm and questions about his long swing and ability to hit offspeed pitches downgraded him as a prospect.
By midseason, en route to a .284/.385/.581 line with 29 homers at Triple A Lehigh Valley, Hoskins had risen to fourth on BA's organizational list, with Ben Badler noting, "The swing, bat speed, power, contact frequency and polished hitting approach should also translate to success at the next level.” The site placed him 69th among their top 100 overall.
Listed at 6’ 4”, 225 pounds, Hoskins was generally considered to be a first base-only prospect, and a fringe defensive one. A three-game crash course in leftfield marked his only professional outfield experience before being recalled, but he's started 16 of his 18 big league games in left, a curious choice given that Philadelphia’s starting first baseman, Tommy Joseph, is hitting just .239/.292/.431 for an 88 OPS+. Then again, they're gunning for the overall number one pick, so a placeholder will suffice, and testing Hoskins to see if he can handle a tougher position has no downside apart from the slight possibility he hurts himself out there.
It's too early to say exactly what the future holds for Hoskins, but he's earned himself a spot in the record books already, and one way or another, he's written his way into the Phillies’ future while making the rest of this season that much more compelling.