ALLENTOWN – It rained most of the day in the Lehigh Valley Monday, so Dusty Wathan, manager of the Phillies' triple-A IronPigs affiliate, gave Rhys Hoskins the option of delaying an outfield experiment designed to get him to the big leagues as soon as possible.
"I talked to Rhys and we talked about pushing it off one more day because we couldn't get on the field (before the game) because of the rain," Wathan said.
Hoskins' response was predictable.
"No, I'm comfortable with (playing)," the 24-year-old slugger told his manager.
And so began Hoskins' professional career in left field, the place where so many other first basemen have gone before in an attempt to find a place in the big leagues. At least in Wathan's mind, there is little question about Hoskins' ability to handle the hitting part at the next level.
"If anybody is ready, it's him from what I've seen," Wathan said before his team's 4-2 loss to the Norfolk Tides at Coca-Cola Park. "He has handled himself very well. He has shown the ability to take walks … he has shown the ability to expand the strike zone when he has needed to drive in a run."
And, of course, he has shown the ability to hit home runs. His 27 homers lead the International League and are the most by a Phillies triple-A player since John Russell hit 27 and Jerry Keller hit 28 for the 1983 Portland Beavers. On cue Monday night, Hoskins singled in his first two at-bats, driving in Lehigh Valley's first run in the third inning.
The question, however, was how he would handle playing in left field, a spot that at least temporarily opened with the Phillies when Aaron Altherr landed on the disabled list last week with a recurring hamstring injury.
At least on this night, Hoskins proved he could handle the routine, making five catches on balls that did not require him to move very far. The only two balls that got past him were a sixth-inning double by Chance Sisco and an eighth-inning triple by Luis Sardinas. Both balls would have required spectacular catches by the most experienced of outfielders.
"I thought he did OK," Wathan said. "Could he have been better? Yes. Could he have been worse? Yes. It's all about experience and getting out there. The double over his head … if he takes a better route at it, does he catch it? Maybe. It's a heck of a catch if he catches it."
As recently as early last month Phillies general manager Matt Klentak seemed reluctant to move either current big-league first baseman Tommy Joseph or Hoskins into the outfield. But Wathan said Hoskins had been tracking fly balls in left field for quite some time during batting practice and wanted to try playing there.
Hoskins had last played in the outfield as a freshman at Sacramento State in 2012 and was asked if it was like riding a bicycle.
"Probably more like riding a unicycle," he said. "It will take me a little bit, but I'm glad I got my feet wet."
So how wet do they have to be for him to play left field in Philadelphia?
"He's ready," IronPigs second baseman Scott Kingery said from across the clubhouse.
Hoskins liked that answer, but admitted he does not know how many starts in left field he'll need to convince the Phillies to give him a chance at the position.
"You can't substitute for live reps," Hoskins said. "You start reading swings, you start listening to the sound of the bat, and you look where the catcher sets up. There are so many factors that go into it that aren't there in BP."