Each day last weekend, Rhys Hoskins of the Philadelphia Phillies reached a home run total faster than any player ever had before. He hit his ninth homer that Friday in his 16th career game. He launched his 10th homer the next day, and his 11th the next. No other major leaguer had ever arrived at those mileposts in so few games.
It was reasonable, then, to think Hoskins might have been shocked at what he was doing. He considered that word near his locker at Citizens Bank Park that Friday, and disagreed.
“I don’t know how to really describe what word to put on it — shock’s definitely not it,” said Hoskins, who will visit Citi Field on Monday as the Phillies begin a three-game series against the Mets. “I’m trying to lose myself in the routine and the preparation and let the ability shine through when it’s game time.”
Hoskins, 24, has always done that, even if it took a while for others to notice. He was the Western Athletic Conference player of the year at Sacramento State in 2014, but lasted until the fifth round of the draft that year. He hit for average and power in the minors, yet never cracked the lists of top 100 prospects assembled by Baseball America, MLB.com or Baseball Prospectus.
“He’s a corner player who’s been age appropriate, but not super young, for his levels, and those types of players don’t often receive a ton of prospect accolades,” said Matt Klentak, the Phillies’ general manager. “But to Rhys’s credit, all the guy’s done is hit, and that’s all he’s done his whole life. Plenty of quality big leaguers, All-Stars and even Hall of Famers were not slam-dunk prospects who debuted at 20 or 21.
In another bleak season for the Phillies, who have the major leagues’ worst record, Hoskins has offered hope. So have Nick Williams, an outfielder promoted from the minors in late June, starter Aaron Nola and a few emerging relievers. Catcher Jorge Alfaro hit .356 in August, and another top prospect, shortstop J. P. Crawford, should arrive soon.
“I tell you what, we have a lot of young talent in this room, and in the rooms that I’ve been in the last couple of years,” Hoskins said. “If those guys develop into the players they’re capable of being, it could be a pretty special group in the next couple of years.”
As Philadelphia fixates on the start of the Eagles’ season, Hoskins’s at-bats have been a pleasant distraction. Like many young players now, he consciously tries to avoid ground balls, with help from a leg kick he addedafter rookie ball at the urging of Andy Tracy, the minor league hitting coordinator.
“It allows me to get some rhythm at the plate,” said Hoskins, who is 6 feet 4 and 225 pounds. “Before, I was really stagnant, and it’s just gotten me on time more. I’ve been able to hit the ball out front a lot more, which I think has led to — I don’t want to say more fly balls, but there’s not a lot of hits on the ground here, especially for a guy like me. So I think, to maximize success, you’ve gotta hit the ball in the gaps.”
Klentak said the Phillies have been especially impressed with Hoskins’s hitting eye.
“Both in the big leagues and at Triple-A, he has taken pitches with such confidence,” Klentak said. “When you see a player with confident takes, that’s usually a sign of a player who really understands the strike zone. He sees pitches out of the hand, spits on pitches just off the plate. In addition to elite power and bat-to-ball skill, his pitch recognition and plate discipline are a big reason he’s doing what he’s doing.”
Hoskins’s pace slowed a bit after his 11th home run. He did not hit a homer in his next four games but hit safely in all of them, concluding August with a 13-game hitting streak, during which he batted .367. His hot start has taught him that major league pitchers make few mistakes, so hitters must capitalize when they do.
“It’s just one of those things: I’m not missing,” Hoskins said. “The game is a lot tougher when you miss pitches.”
A Draft Pick’s Ripple Effect
When the Houston Astros traded for Justin Verlander late Thursday, they included outfielder Daz Cameron in the package of prospects sent to the Detroit Tigers. Drafting Cameron, in 2015, reflected a long-term strategy that paid off.
The Astros acquired the Cameron pick — the 37th overall selection — as part of a July 2014 trade that sent pitcher Jarred Cosart and the utility man Enrique Hernandez to the Miami Marlins. The value of the pick was about $1.5 million, but Cameron, a high school star and the son of the former major leaguer Mike Cameron, commanded more.
The Astros had been through this before. In 2012, during their first draft under General Manager Jeff Luhnow, they spread out their allotted bonus-pool money, spending less than the slotted value for the top overall pick — shortstop Carlos Correa — and using the savings to snag two elite prospects, pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. and infielder Rio Ruiz, for above-slot bonuses lower in the draft.
Picking No. 2 over all in 2015, the Astros took infielder Alex Bregman and signed him for $5.9 million — about $1.5 million less than the slot value. The savings helped them afford Cameron, who got a $4 million bonus. After struggling last season, Cameron hit .271, with 14 homers and 32 steals, for Class A Quad Cities this year.
Correa and McCullers are stars now, and the Astros used Ruiz in a trade with Atlanta for Evan Gattis, a role player with power. Bregman is an everyday cornerstone, and now Cameron has helped the Astros land an ace for their rotation.
“We did utilize our draft pool and our draft picks in a way that would create the most amount of value,” Luhnow said Friday, adding later: “It definitely enabled us to get some premium talent that we wouldn’t have otherwise. It’s really been a terrific job by our scouting operation to identify and bring in the right type of players.”
An Unexpected Prize
Sometimes, the most fun incentives are not written into contracts. You may remember Joey Votto’s promise to buy a donkey for his Cincinnati teammate Zack Cozart if Cozart made the All-Star team. Votto delivered, and now the Angels’ Mike Trout also owes a teammate a prize.
Before Tuesday’s game against Oakland, Angels first baseman C. J. Cron had gone 10 games without a home run. Trout teased him about it, telling Cron he would buy him season tickets to the Phoenix Suns if Cron went deep twice against the A’s.
Cron, a die-hard Suns fan from Phoenix, did just that, connecting off Chris Smith in the first inning and off Michael Brady in the eighth. Cron excitedly told reporters of Trout’s pledge after the game.
“I’ll try to get them on the floor or something,” he said. “I think I just won a couple thousand bucks there. And I’ll be going to all the games. Pretty cool.”
According to the Suns’ website, the best available season tickets at Talking Stick Resort Arena were in the sixth row — not on the floor — and went for $11,209 apiece. The cheapest were in the corner of the upper deck for $693.
Trout, who makes $19.25 million this season (compared with Cron’s $565,000), can afford the best seats available. But Cron might want to thank Trout by flying him to Phoenix to celebrate New Year’s Eve. The Suns host Trout’s beloved Philadelphia 76ers that night.
Nathan Calls It a Career
Joe Nathan announced his retirement on Friday, formally ending a career that included 377 saves, eighth on the career list. Nathan, 42, pitched in Class AAA for the Washington Nationals this year after logging 16 seasons in the majors with five teams.
Nathan was the first major leaguer from Stony Brook University, whose ballpark is named in his honor. His primary team in the majors was the Minnesota Twins, whom he helped to three American League Central titles. Their best chance to advance came in 2004, when they won the first game of their division series with the Yankees.
Nathan earned the save that day, then stifled the Yankees in the 10th and 11th innings the next night in the Bronx. After the Twins took the lead in the 12th, Manager Ron Gardenhire sent Nathan back to close out a game.
It was the only time in 466 games for Minnesota that Nathan would record an out in a third inning of work. But he would get only one.
“After I got the first guy out, I told myself, ‘Stay within yourself,’” Nathan recalled in an interview last year. “Then I walked the nine-hole hitter.”
Nathan, who had struck out John Olerud, indeed walked the No. 9 hitter, Miguel Cairo. That brought up the top of the Yankees’ thunderous lineup, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez.
“After I walked him, I was like, ‘Man, I’m on fumes,’” Nathan said. “They even came out and talked to me, and they were like, ‘How you doing?’ I was like, ‘I don’t have much left, but what do you have for options?’ They said, ‘We don’t want to go to them.’ We had some rookies that did some great things, but we really didn’t want to go to them.
“I said, ‘Well, I’ll give you what I got.’ I think Jeter might have walked, too, and then A-Rod hit one in the gap. They took me out after that.”
Rodriguez’s ground-rule double scored Cairo, tying the game. Nathan technically stayed in to walk Gary Sheffield intentionally, before J. C. Romero — who had a 5.00 earned run average that season, his second full year in the majors — allowed a game-winning sacrifice fly to Hideki Matsui.
That defeat began a 12-game playoff losing streak for the Twins, who were swept by Oakland in 2006 and by the Yankees in 2009 and 2010. The Twins are seeking another chance this season, and after going 20-10 in August, they entered September in position for the second A.L. wild card.