It all happened so quickly for Rhys Hoskins.
He made his major-league debut on Aug. 10, 2017 and clubbed his first home run four days later. He went deep 11 times in 18 games and 18 times in 34 games. By the final day of August, the headline on an ESPN.com story asked, “Is Rhys Hoskins the next face of the Phillies?” And by the following spring, he actually was.
Hoskins emerged as the team’s leader and spokesman in 2018, as the Phillies unexpectedly spent 39 days in first place. He grabbed a spot on the national stage during All-Star week when he competed alongside Bryce Harper in the Home Run Derby. Nobody took the Phillies’ late-season free fall harder than the homegrown slugger around whom the organization centered its rebuilding.
Through it all, it was easy to forget that Hoskins had been a big-leaguer for barely one calendar year.
Bear that in mind when you mull Hoskins’ post-All-Star-break plunge into the abyss this season. Even at age 26, he’s a developing player, a former fifth-round draft pick who wasn’t as heralded as Dylan Cozens when they came through the Phillies’ farm system as middle-of-the-order prospects. His major-league sample size is fewer than 400 games and 1,600 plate appearances.
All of this is to say that Hoskins has so much still to learn, including, it seems, how to emerge from a slump before it spirals so far out of control that he rates among the worst hitters in baseball for almost half a season and gives you reason to second-guess whether he’s really here to stay as a centerpiece member of the next great Phillies team.
“I don’t think there’s any sugarcoating it, right?” Hoskins said the other day. “I think that, for lack of a better word, it sucked.”
That’s the perfect word, actually. Entering the weekend, Hoskins was batting .184 since the All-Star break, 146th among 147 players with enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title. He was 112th in on-base percentage (.319) and 134th in slugging (.373). It was a precipitous fall from the first half, when he had a .401` on-base percentage and slugged .530.
His fade mirrored the team’s. The Phillies were 32-37 since the All-Star break and needed to sweep a three-game series from the Miami Marlins just to finish the season with a winning record for the first time since 2011. Playoffs? That turned out to be a pipe dream.
Hoskins being Hoskins, he carried the weight of that failure. You could see it in every protested third strike, every helmet spike, every skyward gaze after a hard-hit ball didn’t find grass in the outfield or seats in the bleachers.
Imagine, then, all the scenes that you couldn’t see, from extra sessions in the batting cage to late-night video study. Hoskins tried everything. He narrowed his stance and shortened his leg kick. He simplified his approach. When his racing mind told him to do more, he fought the urge and backed off. Nothing worked.
If it was difficult for fans to watch, think about how tortuous it must have been for the player.
Now, as it all comes to a merciful end, Hoskins is seeking the bright side of being in such a dark place.
“As hard as it may be to find a silver lining in something like this that has gone on for so long, I think in the grand scheme of hopefully my long career this is something that is probably going to be good for me," he said. "You struggle and you learn, right? So I think going through something like this for the first time really is something that will be good for me. I will learn a ton from it. I already have.”
“I think something that is pretty obvious right off the bat is just the mental part of it, right?” Hoskins said. “This game is already incredibly mental, and going through something like this adds to that. It heightens that. I don’t know that ‘deal with it’ is the right phrase, but knowing that you can get back out on the other side. Like, I’ve struggled in the past -- not for this extended period of time -- and come out the other side.”
Only he couldn’t do it this time. There are bound to be whispers, maybe even more audible utterances, this winter that the Phillies should trade Hoskins. Considering he made $575,000 this year and isn’t eligible for salary arbitration until after next season, he could be their most desirable trade chip in the pursuit of a top-of-the-rotation starter to pair with Aaron Nola.
Don’t count on it. Hoskins is a triumph for the Phillies’ scouting and player-development, areas in which they haven’t had many successes over the last decade. They would rather tout him than trade him.
“Look, right or wrong, I don’t worry about Rhys Hoskins,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “I just think the offensive profile in isolation is too good. His decisions are too good. He swings at strikes. He takes balls, generally speaking.
"Part of the reason he’s struggled is because he’s put balls in play that sometimes in the past he’s fouled off. You ever see the kind of ass-out, flail foul ball? We’ve seen a lot of those that recently have been put in play. Part of that is maybe a little more barrel accuracy, part of it is kind of random. But those are things that I think will correct themselves.”
Maybe a few weeks without baseball will do the trick. It’s commendable, even admirable, that Hoskins takes the Phillies’ successes and failures so personally. More players should be that way. But maybe it’s too much responsibility for a player who is still so young in his career.
“Look, I think there’s learning when to do more, when to do less,” Hoskins said. “I think sometimes doing less can be more helpful in the short-term and the long-term. There’s been a lot of learning about that, for sure. As much as I will want to pick up a bat and grind through this struggle and figure it out, it’s probably healthy to not. It’s probably healthy to step away, right?"
Indeed, Hoskins has a welcome respite upcoming. He’s getting married in November, and the time away from the batting cage figures to be healthful for his body and especially his mind.
Besides, there will be plenty of time for him to answer for what went so wrong and how he can keep it from happening again.
“It’s something that I will always hold with me,” Hoskins said. “I don’t think this is something that is indicative of the way I am as a player.”