The first pitch was a called strike, a curveball on the inside corner. Pitch No. 2 was fouled off. Sure, the count was 0-2, but Rhys Hoskins seemed unfazed. Three balls and two fouls later, the count was worked to full. On the eighth pitch of the at bat, the ball landed in the seats, off the facing of the second deck, 109 mph off the bat.
That is the quintessential Rhys Hoskins.
The big Phillies first baseman has seen just 64 big league plate appearances, but his .283/.406/.755 slash line certainly jumps off the page. As do his eight homers in 15 games (a Major League record), all of them actually coming in his last 11.
Perhaps more impressive, though, is the fact that he has 10 walks... to just 11 strikeouts.
Yes, 64 plate appearances isn’t enough to fully evaluate a hitter. But, it’s important to note that, since his promotion, Hoskins has been exactly as advertised, which makes him all the more exciting. Over a much larger sample — 475 plate appearances in Triple-A — Hoskins slashed .284/.385/.581, swatting 29 home runs while posting a walk rate of 13.5 percent to a strikeout rate of 15.8 percent.
If you’re still not impressed, Hoskins has actually improved both his walk and strikeout rates in 2017 since his 38-homer campaign with Double-A last year. Despite being a fifth round pick in 2014 and never appearing all that high on any prospect lists, Hoskins looks like a promising young hitter that has the ability to be something special in the Major Leagues.
The question becomes, though, how good could Hoskins become? We can all guess as to how well his tools will translate to the Majors, but let’s imagine that they move perfectly, and Hoskins has a fantastic career that follows the normal big league hitter progression. Who is this man?
Dave Cameron of FanGraphs wrote an article on Tuesday entitled “Rhys Hoskins Looks Kind of Awesome.” In the article, Cameron points out Hoskins’s low ground ball rate, his high contact rate and his great plate discipline, comparing him to the likes of Matt Carpenter, Daniel Murphy and Justin Turner in those areas.
However, while Hoskins has many similar traits to those of Carpenter, Murphy and Turner, he has an abundance of power, something that they do not have. Before you contest this, I’m not saying Carpenter, Murphy and Turner have zero power, they just do not have an abundance. Hoskins’s isolated power may have the opportunity to approach .300 in the future. Carpenter (.194), Turner (.208) and Murphy (.234) just don’t come close.
Those comparisons make sense fundamentally, but in my mind, they fall short of having Hoskins’s No. 1 tool.
At his absolute best, I see Hoskins as the type of player who could hit .270/.370/.500 with 35 homers in the big leagues, putting him near the top of the league in OPS. We don’t know, though, if Hoskins has the ability to be a .280/.390/.550 slash line-type player, which, if reached, would make him an elite slugger. Even though I’m trying to paint a picture of Hoskins’s ceiling, I’m not even sure that’s possible for him yet. Only time will tell. For now, let’s stick with the .870 OPS ceiling.
When looking for a comparison for Hoskins, I started looking at hitters from 2012 to 2016 who had seasons with 30 or more homers with a walk rate above 10 percent in that respective season. Edwin Encarnacion reigned supreme on this list, appearing on it in all five seasons, but he wasn’t the player I wanted. After further searching, one name stood out as a potentially perfect match.
Who is my No. 1 optimistic comp for ceiling-Rhys Hoskins? Anthony Rizzo.
Rizzo is a former 6th round pick out that, like Hoskins, hit at every level in the minors. Like Hoskins, he wasn’t ever projected to be a superstar as a prospect (ranking lower than someone named Brett Jackson on one list I found — I don’t even know who that is). Unlike Hoskins, Rizzo had more time to develop, having been selected out of high school. Still, the similarities outnumber the differences.
Rizzo’s career big league slash is .268/.367/.487. His walk rate is solid, at 11.2 percent, and his strikeout rate isn’t outrageous, at 16.9 percent. He plays first base, but doesn’t grade overwhelmingly well with the advanced defensive metrics. He’s hit 30 or more homers in each of the last three seasons, and with 28, will probably do so again this year.
The counting stats make sense when comparing the two hitters, but check out how close they already are in plate discipline:
Rhys Hoskins vs. Anthony Rizzo, plate discipline
According to research done by Russell Carleton in 2007, plate discipline rates begin to “stabilize” in fewer than 40 plate appearances. That means that Hoskins has had enough big league trips to the plate to already begin evaluating his tendencies as a hitter, which strengthens the connection between him and Rizzo. Both players make potentially league-leading amounts of contact but are selective enough that they only swing around the league-average number of pitches. This combination of a high-contact swing and a great eye is hard to find in the Majors, especially with strikeouts on the rise. Both Hoskins and Rizzo have displayed that rare skill, though, giving me more reason to believe that a best-case Rhys Hoskins could look something like Anthony Rizzo.
So far this year, though, in his laughably small 64 plate appearance sample, Hoskins has looked like another outstanding NL Central first baseman: Joey Votto. The hit tool hasn’t been as good, but his .406 on-base percentage thus far is almost, but not quite, Vottoian. It’s certainly better than Rizzo’s career mark, even as he too continues to improve in that area.
Could Rhys Hoskins end up like Joey Votto?
This is where things get interesting. It’s impossible to call someone the next Votto, especially as the Reds 1B continues to build a strong case for the Hall of Fame. But, because we are having some fun here, what would Hoskins have to do to make himself look like Joey Votto?
For simplicity, let’s say that Hoskins would need to sport a .300/.400/.500 line to hit this mark. (Sidenote: as good as that sounds, it’s actually 68 points worse in the OPS department than Votto’s career line. That’s insane.)
But even as ready as we all knew he was from the get-go, Hoskins still only hit .284/.385/.581 in Triple-A this year, close but not close enough to Votto’s marks. He would have to drastically improve in the Major Leagues — which has happened for some players, mind you, but is obviously very rare — in order to become the next Votto. With Hoskins’s off-the-charts contact rate and excellent eye, it may not be impossible.
This is how Hoskins’s plate discipline stacks up against Votto’s:
Rhys Hoskins vs. Joey Votto, plate discipline
There’s an argument to be made that Hoskins’s discipline more aligns with Votto’s than Rizzo’s. The contact rate is nearly identical, as is the swinging strike rate. The biggest difference, though, lies in the percentage of pitches outside the zone that each hitter swung at. Votto’s 15.6 percent is, once again, insane. Hoskins’s 25.3 percent mark is still good, especially for a rookie, but it is not Vottoian. I’d like to point out, though, that back when Votto first broke into the league, from 2007 to 2010, his o-swing% ranged from 24.4 percent to 31.5 percent, much closer to Hoskins’s rate. With time, Hoskins should only get better at determining which pitches to swing at.
I just spent 1,244 words discussing two scenarios for best-case Rhys Hoskins. I will repeat: he’s come to the plate just 64 times as a big leaguer. The pitchers haven’t even made their initial adjustment against him! But, knowing the type of hitter he is, beyond just the numbers, could clue us into the type of numbers he will post in the future.
Rhys Hoskins could be a hybrid of Anthony Rizzo and Joey Votto. On the flip side, he could also stink. We won’t know who he truly is for another three to five years. (By that time, this article may not have aged very well.) We do know, however, that Hoskins’s first couple weeks in the Major Leagues have excited many around the league for what’s to come.
Hoskins’s ceiling, though, may very well be higher than the second deck that ball landed in on Wednesday.
Devan Fink is a Featured Writer at Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.