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Phillies 1B/OF Rhys Hoskins prioritizing strength, defense following impressive rookie season

By Matt Rappa, Sports Talk Philly editor

Philadelphia Phillies 1B/OF Rhys Hoskins is entering the 2018 season with high expectations of him, coming off of his stellar rookie season which featured 18 home runs and 48 runs-batted-in spanning 50 games and 212 plate appearances.

Hoskins, 24, quickly took the league by storm which remarkable feats, such as becoming just the fifth Phillie in club history to homer in five straight games, August 23-27. Hoskins also became the fastest player in Major League history to reach 11 home runs on August 27, in terms of at-bats (64), besting the previous record of 81 at-bats set by the New York Yankees' Shane Spencer (1998-99) and Gary Sanchez (2015-16).

And yet, despite his never-before-seen production over his first 34 career games (.314/.442/.805), Hoskins failed to keep up with the rapid production over his last 16, going homerless with a .135/.292/.192 slash. Hoskins called this dealing with struggle a "learning experience" Friday on the WIP Morning Show with Al Morganti, Rhea Hughes and Marc Farzetta at Spectrum Field.

"My body had never experienced that. I think [my body] was probably yelling at me saying, 'hey, man, you're supposed to be at home enjoying the offseason,'" Hoskins said. "We still had a month to play. Eventually we're going to have to learn how to play for two more months after that Sept. 1 date that we normally end in the minor league season."

"A lot of the offseason workouts and training were geared towards [that], making sure [of] maintaining that strength and focus at the end of the season. It's something that's reachable and capable."

Hoskins attributed his late-season offensive decline to him "missing pitches" that he "wasn't missing" to start his career.

"When you miss pitches, you're going to have to face that guy's best stuff, and most of the time you're not going to hit that guy's best stuff no matter who's on the mound," said Hoskins, who has already connected with a home run this spring. Through nine at-bats, Hoskins is batting .222/.300/.556 with a single, solo home run and walk.

In the field, Hoskins has made five starts: two in left field, one in right field, one at first base and one as the designated hitter. Hoskins will get a second look as the designated hitter on Friday, away against the Tampa Bay Rays at Charlotte Sports Park. Rarely, however, in Hoskins' starts in the outfield, has he stayed at the position throughout the entirety of his appearance. Similar to what rookie manager Gabe Kapler is doing with Tommy Joseph, Hoskins has switched between the corner outfield positions based on scouting reports of opposing batters, and where they tend to hit the ball.

This can be seen as recently as the Phillies' March 1 home contest against the New York Yankees. Hoskins started the game in right, and switched to left field three times as the game continued on. Next to his seven-letter last name in the box score, "RF-LF-RF-LF-RF-LF" can be seen.

It's all a part of Kapler's initiative this spring to ask his players to be versatile.

"Right when we got here, down in Florida for spring training, Kap really stressed the importance of flexibility from us as position players," Hoskins said. "I know he's touched on it with the bullpen guys as well, being able to throw in different roles. I think that holds true with us position players. I think his main goal is to try to put us in the best situation where we have the best chance to have success every time we step on the field."

Clearly, Kapler, Hoskins and the Phillies are thinking outside the box in that aspect, and collectively are willing to do whatever it takes to win. Similar to what his teammate, shortstop J.P. Crawford said on Thursday, Hoskins believes the Phillies have the talent to "shock some people around the league" this season.

"We want to win. .... We have a lot of young guys that I think are going to take steps forward," Hoskins said. "I think if we do that as a collective group, the product on the field is going to be pretty exciting."

On a personal level, Hoskins hopes to master his fielding skills at whatever position he is asked to field, first base, or either of the corner outfield positions.

"I think the whole defensive thing is a big priority to me," Hoskins said. "I want to try to impact the game on as many different levels as I can, whether that's in the field defensively, on the base paths as a baserunner, or in the box as a hitter. I know my role in the lineup, and I think throughout my career it is to be a run producer. I try to set goals for myself to produce as many runs as I can."

Hoskins committed four errors last season in 253 chances. Three of the errors came at first base (206 chances), while the other came in left field (47 chances). The Sacramento, California native's offense surely made up for those errors, however. Hoskins ranked fifth among National League rookies last season in walks (37), sixth in home runs (18) and ninth in runs-batted-in (48), despite making his big league debut in the second week of August.

"I think the best word I use to describe [last year] is 'surreal.' All of it just happened so fast that there wasn't a whole bunch of thought going on," Hoskins said. "Every time we stepped on the field, it felt like something was going to happen."

"It's a good feeling to have."

The Phillies and Hoskins will begin the season in less than four weeks, as they head to Atlanta, Georgia to take on the division-rival Braves at SunTrust Park on Thursday, March 29.



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