One of the biggest and perhaps the most difficult questions for the defending National League champion Philadelphia Phillies to answer over this off-season will be how to improve their overall team defense.
One area has already been addressed. The August trade of top catching prospect Logan O’Hoppe to the Los Angeles Angels for Brandon Marsh, who turns just 25-years of age in December, would appear to solidify the club in center field for years to come.
Finally fixing center field is part of the solution to making the Phillies one of the game’s strongest defensively up the middle. Catcher J.T. Realmuto is a two-time Gold Glove Award winner, including for this past season. Rookie Bryson Stott is a strong defender who appears set to take over second base as the club pursues one of the big four free agent shortstops.
Though the Phillies appear stable up the middle defensively, the corners in both the outfield and infield continue to leave something to be desired. Kyle Schwarber is one of the game’s top mashers. The left fielder was the National League home run leader this past season. But defensively he is, well, let’s just say that area is not his strong suit.
In right field, Bryce Harper had played well since signing as a free agent prior to the 2019 campaign. He was a Gold Glove Award finalist at the position that first season with the club. But a UCL tear back in April left him unable to play defense, relegating him to a purely Designated Hitter role over most of the year. It is unclear when or if he will be able to play right field in the 2023 season.
Nick Castellanos had a strong postseason defensively during the Phillies run to the World Series. And he handled 225 chances over 121 regular season games without making a single error this year after taking over the role from Harper. He won’t hurt the team out there, but neither will he ever be nominated for any Gold Gloves.
On the infield corners, 26-year-old Alec Bohm‘s play at third base improved markedly after the season’s first month. His fielding ability has improved but, like Castellanos, he is never going to win a Gold Glove. In fact, his best long-term position might be over at first base.
And this brings us to that first base position.
Rhys Hoskins has been the starter at first base for the Philadelphia Phillies for most of the last six years. Pete Mackanin split his use at first base (27 games) and left field (30 games) in Hoskins’ rookie campaign back in 2017. Gabe Kapler ill-advisedly made him the everyday left field starter, using him out there for 135 games the following season. Hoskins made seven errors over 133 chances handled altogether. He hasn’t played out there ever since.
Hoskins power bat has been a key piece in the Phillies offensive attack since his arrival in South Philly. He blasted 18 homers and produced 48 RBIs over just 50 games in 2017, finishing fourth in NL Rookie of the Year voting. It was a 50+ home run and 130+ RBIs pace.
Over his first full season in 2018, Hoskins crushed 34 home runs with 96 RBIs. He slipped back a bit with 29 homers and 85 RBIs in 2019 during a season in which he also led the league with 116 walks.
The 2020 season was shortened to 41 games by the pandemic. Hoskins then appeared in just 107 games in 2021 due to an injury that cut his season short in August. Over what amounts to a normal season’s worth of 148 games across those two years, Hoskins produced 37 homers and 97 RBI.
This year, Hoskins drilled 30 homers and knocked in 79 runs, his RBI total lessened mostly by the fact that he was frequently hitting out of the two-hole in the batting order. Then over 17 games during his first-ever postseason experience he boomed a half-dozen more long balls, a number of those of the clutch variety.
Averaging nearly 36 home runs and 98 RBIs for every 162 games played, Hoskins has proven to be one of the most consistent power bats in all of Major League Baseball during his six-year career. But there are some troubling signs.
Hoskins walk total has dropped from 116 during his league-leading 2019 campaign, to 76 during the combined 2020-21 seasons, to 72 this past season. His OPS collapsed from a career high of .864 in 2021 to a .794 mark this year. In the 2022 postseason, the home runs accounted for more than half his total hits (11) over 17 games. He hit just .159 with a .205 OBP while striking out 24 times, registering seven multi-strikeout games.
With a career .242/.353/.492 slash line, Rhys Hoskins appears to have become a very predictable hitter. He blasts the occasional home run, draws a walk a bit better than most, and provides very little else.
Defensively, Hoskins has become a clear liability. He made a dozen errors over 150 games at first base during the regular season. Despite his power numbers, his low average and defensive shortcoming have led him to never achieve a bWAR value of three in any of his six seasons.
After multiple outrageous errors during this postseason, be honest with me. Tell me that every time a ball was either hit or thrown to Hoskins at first base, that you didn’t cringe, even just a little bit. It became impossible not to worry that one of his gaffe’s on a ball that should be handled easily by a big-league first baseman would hurt the team.
Hoskins play at first base has become a problem. An increasingly big problem if this team truly wants to elevate itself to contend for a division crown over a full 162-game season.
Hoskins power shows up equally against both left-handed pitchers and right-handers. But his average and on-base numbers are significantly higher against southpaws. In short, Hoskins best value would come as the righty half of a DH platoon.
Now, where Hoskins is concerned there is another factor at play. That would be his intangibles. I can see Brian Kenny of MLB Network cringing now. But the Phillies locker room developed tremendous chemistry this season and Hoskins is a well-liked leader in that room. He is the team’s union player rep and only starting pitcher Aaron Nola has been with the club longer.
This will be Hoskins’ final year in the salary arbitration process. After making $7.7 million this year he is likely to get a contract somewhere in the neighborhood of $11 million for 2023. He is scheduled to become a free agent after next season at age 30. There is almost no chance that the Phillies will sign him to a longer term extension.
So, what do the Phillies do with Rhys Hoskins right now? Do they live with the “he is what he is” player for one more year? Do they keep him into the year and perhaps look to deal him as the 2023 trade deadline approaches based on other opportunities that might come available at that point?
One possibility is that club president Dave Dombrowski could look to deal him now, during this current off-season, hoping to cash in on the club’s exciting postseason and Hoskins’ handful of big home runs during that run.
If the Phillies do choose to move on from Hoskins, it creates another question: Who’s on first? They could move Bohm to first, where he played in 17 games over the last two seasons. At 6’5″, Bohm makes for an impressive target. With plenty of experience at the hot corner across the diamond, his defensive reflexes could prove an asset. But then, who plays third?
The most likely scenario is that the Phillies keep Hoskins around for one more season, see what happens as 2023 unfolds, and either deal him in-season or let him walk after the year as a free agent. How the club chooses to handle it’s Rhys Hoskins problem is going to be one of the most interesting stories surrounding the club in 2023.
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