Rhys Hoskins has all the substance a team could ask for in a prospect. It's the style that needs work.
During a recent game, Hoskins hit a fly ball off the top of the center-field fence and into some Citizens Bank Park shrubbery for a home run. He broke slowly out of the batter's box, and Phillies manager Pete Mackanin -- who is paid to monitor such things as the custodian of a young roster -- brought the concentration lapse to his attention upon his return to the dugout.
"I said, 'Hey, you've gotta run,'" Mackanin said. "He smiled at me like he thought I was kidding. And I said, 'I'm not kidding. The ball hit the top of the wall.' I've gone through that with a few other players, and we don't want to get into those habits. It's not an issue, but you've got to be careful with that."
The next day, as Hoskins continued his home run binge, he launched a 416-foot blast into the upper deck in left. The ball was clearly gone at impact, but Hoskins sprinted out of the box before easing into a nice, comfortable trot. When he arrived back at the dugout, the manager was smiling at the top of the stairs.
"I told him, 'When you hit something like that, you can jog,'" Mackanin said. "But that tells you he listens."
As Hoskins draws the necessary distinctions between wall-scrapers and no-doubters, it shouldn't take him long to figure out the rules of etiquette for circling the bases. Lord knows, he's getting plenty of practice.
Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger had their turns, and now Major League Baseball is marveling at the exploits of Hoskins, a mature, intelligent and centered 24-year-old who's performing like Giancarlo Stanton North.
Since going hitless in 12 at-bats upon arrival from Triple-A Lehigh Valley, Hoskins has seized the initiative with a pine tar-enhanced grip. He has gone deep in two time zones, on weekdays and weekends, during Phillie Phanatic Back-to-School Alarm Clock giveaway day, and with franchise icon Mike Schmidt commentating from the broadcast booth and away playing golf.
Hoskins set a major league record with 11 home runs in his first 18 games. With a double against Atlanta on Monday, he joined Pinky Whitney of the 1928 Phillies and Dick Allen of the 1964 squad as the third rookie in franchise history with an extra-base hit in six consecutive games. During a memorable span from Aug. 10 to 29, Hoskins' 11 homers tied him with the output for the entire San Francisco Giants team.
"I asked him if I can use his batting gloves for the month of September," said Phillies outfielder Nick Williams. "It's crazy. I keep saying every day, 'This is not real.' It's freak. It's like he's not human -- he's an alien or something."
The Phillies are 49-83 this season, but Hoskins' emergence is a sign that the organization's rebuild is gaining traction. Williams has slashed .281/.344/.485 since his arrival from Triple-A, and catcher Jorge Alfaro is hitting .356 in his first 12 games. Second baseman Scott Kingery is tearing up the International League and forcing his way into the big league mix. And former first-rounder Aaron Nola is establishing himself as Philadelphia's best homegrown starter since Cole Hamels broke into the majors in 2006.
As the Phillies' budding leader of the pack, Hoskins keeps on slugging through a barrage of media requests and daily demands on his time. It's too soon to start reminiscing about the Phillies' glory years from 2007 to 2011, but so far Hoskins has displayed an impressive blend of Ryan Howard's power, and Chase Utley's focus and unflappability.
"I'm trying to soak it all in," Hoskins said. "This is something that may only come around once in my lifetime, so I'm trying to take advantage of it all I can and just try to enjoy the ride. I think it's meant to be fun. It's a game, after all."
TO NATIONAL BASEBALL FANS who ask, "Where the heck did this kid come from?" The answer lies roughly 2,800 miles from Philadelphia. Hoskins was born and raised in Sacramento, California. His father, Paul, is a civil attorney and a lifelong Willie Mays fan. His mother, Cathy, also an attorney, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1995 and died from the disease in 2009, when Rhys was 16 and a sophomore in high school.
Hoskins has a younger sister named Meloria, so his parents were partial to creative thinking. While his name encompasses only four letters and one syllable, he's accustomed to hearing it mangled on a routine basis.
"I really get anything you can think of,'' Hoskins said. "I get 'Rice' a lot. I get 'Rise' a lot. And surprisingly, I hear 'Ryan' a lot. In school, we used to go in alphabetical order, and I would just raise my hand and say, 'It's [pronounced] 'Reese.'"
Hoskins played baseball, basketball and football for Jesuit High School in nearby Carmichael and passed on the baseball showcase circuit. He took his 4.0 grade point average to Sacramento State, in part, because the Hornets showed lots of early interest and the power conferences never called. Hoskins was named Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year as a junior and signed with the Phillies for a $349,000 bonus as the 142nd overall pick in the 2014 MLB first-year player draft.
Assorted flashpoints in Hoskins' career mark his route to prominence. It dawned on him that he might have a future in pro ball when he hit .326 for the Falmouth Commodores in the Cape Cod League against bigger-name competition. He picked up a leg kick from minor league hitting instructor Andy Tracy as a timing mechanism, and he learned how to dissect pitchers and develop a consistent game plan at the plate with the help of Double-A Reading hitting coach Frank Cacciatore.
Hoskins' combination of plate discipline and pitch recognition suggests he'll be more than just a bopper. He logged a .375 on-base percentage in the minors and struck out a moderate 353 times in 1,904 plate appearances. Phillies people describe him as a "professional hitter,'' which just happens to be the moniker associated with the team's first-year hitting coach, Matt Stairs.
"He made a great impression on me and the coaching staff in the spring by the quality of his at-bats," Mackanin said. "He really looked like he knew the strike zone. He didn't expand the strike zone, and he was under control. He's not just a 40-home run guy who's gonna have a .280 on-base percentage. He's going to have a .350-plus on-base percentage and a high OPS. I think he's for real."
WHEN HOSKINS SAVORS this magical, improbable run, the home run trots rank second on the gratification scale. He is most heartened by the supportive texts and phone calls he's received from folks back home who believed in him when he was bucking history on his trip through the minors. Pitcher Roland de la Maza, who threw two innings in relief for the 1997 Kansas City Royals, was the last Sacramento State Hornet to play in the big leagues before Hoskins joined the Phillies.
Amid all the career "firsts," Hoskins thinks of his mother, obviously, and also of his dad, who sat in the stands with Meloria and Rhys' girlfriend and sweated out that early 0-for-12.
"My father deserves a lot of credit,'' Hoskins said. "He's the one who was always driving me to the batting cage and everywhere else through the countless hours we spent together. He's always been there.''
Sacramento State coach Reggie Christiansen, Hoskins' de facto baseball father and the California chapter chairman of the Rhys Hoskins fan club, is happy to provide insights on the thoughtfulness and other traits that have prompted Hoskins' friends and former teammates to root so hard for his success.
During the recruiting process at Sacramento State, the Hornets offered Hoskins a 25 percent scholarship, then bumped it to 65 percent because they feared another school might swoop in late and make a run at him. Hoskins maintained that status until his junior year, when he relinquished the increase and went back to a 25 percent scholarship so Christiansen could invest the savings in a pitcher to make the team better.
In 2014, Hoskins led Sacramento State to a WAC title and the school's first NCAA tournament appearance. After signing for a six-figure bonus with the Phillies, Hoskins spent $8,000 to $9,000 on commemorative rings for his teammates. Hoskins implored Christiansen not to tell anyone, and the coach kept the story a secret before finally sharing the details at a baseball fundraiser this year.
Naturally, Hoskins is also popular with kids. Christiansen has two sons and a daughter, and the little girl, Ava, gravitated to Hoskins because he always remembered to give her bubble gum during his time at Sacramento State. When the Phillies visited San Francisco recently to play the Giants, the Christiansen family trekked to AT&T Park for two weekend games. At the end of batting practice, Hoskins walked over and pulled out three pieces of gum for Ava, now age 6.
"He's a pretty special kid, no doubt," Christiansen said. "It's remarkable what he's doing, but the one thing that doesn't surprise me is how he's acted throughout this whole thing. You watch him when he comes back to the dugout after he hits a home run, and it's almost like he's thinking, 'Is this for real?' He's always been so humble. This whole thing has been like watching a Disney movie."
Regardless of the numbers Hoskins puts up in September, the Phillies have seen enough to be convinced they have a long-term first base/cleanup staple in their midst. They envision Hoskins as a leader and cornerstone player they can build around to help expedite a protracted rebuilding process.
"He's a very mature young man, and he gets it," Mackanin said. "Just from being around him and talking to him, you can tell he blends right in. He carries himself like a veteran player.
"Nobody can keep up the pace he's on, so the key will be how he handles a little slump. That's the next thing we have to learn about him. If he starts getting a big head, we'll know. The baseball gods will take care of that."
Through three weeks, 76 at-bats and Rhys Hoskins' first major league curtain call, the baseball gods have yet to lay a glove on him. As long as he keeps putting balls in the seats, Philadelphia fans won't care how long it takes him to complete the trip home.