Rhys Hoskins shines first month in the majors

PHILADELPHIA (AP) Rhys Hoskins is no ordinary rookie.

Since his debut with the Philadelphia Phillies last month, the 24-year-old slugger has shown prodigious power, remarkable plate discipline and the poise of a veteran.

”He looks like a professional hitter,” manager Pete Mackanin said. ”He just gives you quality at-bats. He knows the strike zone. He’s not afraid to get behind in the count. He’s not afraid to go the other way. He wants to drive in the run.”

Even the way he handled silent treatment from his teammates after smacking his first career homer showed his polish. Hoskins walked up and down the dugout, high-fiving the air while all the guys sat stone-faced.

It took Hoskins five games to get that first one and only two more at-bats to go deep again in the same game in San Diego in front of about 30 family and friends. That started his historic run.

Hoskins hit 11 homers in his first 18 games, connecting in five straight to tie a rookie record. No player in major league history reached nine, 10 or 11 homers faster than Hoskins.

”I don’t think I’ve ever seen a young guy look that profound at home plate,” Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. ”Look at his walks to strikeouts. That’s the part that tells me he can sustain – not necessarily this pace – but he can sustain it because he doesn’t strike out. He will accept his walks. He doesn’t expand the strike zone. He uses the whole field. He’s a big guy with short movements to the ball. Pretty impressive.”

Entering Sunday’s game at Miami, Hoskins was batting .318 with 12 homers, 27 RBIs, and 17 strikeouts with 13 walks. He had a 14-game hitting streak snapped Friday.

”I’m confident in the ability that I have,” he said. ”I’m trying to just lose myself in the routine and the preparation, and let the ability shine through when it’s game time.”

His talent has sparkled.

Hoskins hit seven of his first 11 homers with two strikes, including five when he was behind in the count. He swings at a low percentage of pitches and makes contact on a high percentage of his swings. He hits fastballs, he hits off-speed stuff, he hits everything. He pulls the ball and goes the opposite way.

Not bad for a guy who never really wowed scouts. A fifth-round pick out of Sacramento State in 2014, Hoskins hit well at every level in the minors. Yet he wasn’t listed among the top 100 prospects by any major publications because he doesn’t have speed, a strong arm or excellent glove.

All he does is rake.

Hoskins earned both the Triple-A International League Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year awards after batting .284 with 29 home runs and 91 RBIs at Lehigh Valley this season. But his path to Philadelphia was blocked at first base by Tommy Joseph, who has had a so-so season. Hoskins eventually moved to left field for a crash course before getting called up.

Though he has proven he can handle the outfield, the team says Hoskins’ future is at first. Then again, the Phillies won a World Series in 1980 with Greg ”Bull” Luzinski in left field and won their only other championship in 2008 with Pat Burrell in left. Hoskins is more athletic than those guys. He even started a triple play last Sunday with a sliding catch and then hit his 11th homer a couple innings later, earning his first curtain call from the home fans.

”It’s a special thing to watch, the way he keeps his composure, the way that he sticks to who he is and the way he handles things,” pitcher Nick Pivetta said. ”He’s a true professional.”

While the Phillies are heading toward their first 100-loss season since 1961, Hoskins has become a must-watch player down the stretch. Outfielder Nick Williams also has shined in his short time in the majors and prospect J.P. Crawford could be here soon, too.

Fans have reason to be excited about the future. The young lineup has potential, especially with Hoskins anchoring it from the cleanup spot.

”He’s made a big impression,” Mackanin said.

That’s an understatement.

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