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March 07, 2023

Phillies 2023 preview: Is this Rhys Hoskins' swan song at first?

Hoskins heads into his contract year with his future in Philadelphia uncertain.

The Phillies are in the midst of an important spring training. After finishing the 2022 season just two wins shy of a World Series title, the defending NL champions will have to quiet the doubters again — this time with an even higher payroll and tougher expectations to match.

Philly currently carries +1600 odds to win the World Series in 2023, the eighth best via OddsShark. They are third to win the NL East (+325) behind the Braves and Mets.

Before the team hits the field in Arlington to open their 2023 campaign against the Texas Rangers on March 30, we're going to take a deep dive into each positional group.

Today it's first base...

Scouting report

Perhaps no one on the 2022 Philadelphia Phillies had a more cathartic season than Rhys Hoskins and now, entering 2023, probably no one has a more uncertain future. 

He's the starting first baseman this season, and there really isn't any argument about it (as much as a certain subsect of fans want there to be), but beyond that? Right now, it's cloudy. 

Hoskins will get $12 million this year, but with free agency looming for the soon-to-be 30-year old and the Phillies' payroll only getting higher, talks of an extension reportedly haven't even begun – at least as of early last week.

It's a big year, both for the Phillies' ambitions of getting back to the World Series and Hoskins' – a Scott Boras client – expected value on the market. How it plays out will ultimately decide whether he stays in red pinstripes for the foreseeable future. 

"Rhys is a tremendous player, tremendous person," Phillies president Dave Dombrowski said earlier this spring. "He's done a lot for the organization. We'll just analyze and see what takes place. But we love him, we think the world of him."

The club's longest-tenured position player and one of the two remaining faces of its arduous rebuild through the mid-late 2010s, Hoskins as a whole has been good though at various points frustrating because he never quite made the jump to being great. 

He's always good for around 30 home runs and works a lot of pitches out of his at-bats, but over the years, he's proven incredibly streaky, illustrated by his monthly splits over the past two seasons:

 Month2021 2022 
March/April .231/.273/.529 .197/.303/.368 
May .302/.398/.448 .239/.303/.431 
June .135/.217/.365 .306/.414/.612 
July .310/.444/.718 .253/.327/.463 
August* .364/.417/1.000 .248/.358/.467 
Sept./Oct.* .226/.282/.415 

*Played seven games in August before being shut down with injury

Basically, when he's hot, he's red hot. When he's cold, he's ice cold. And often, there's little in between.

That said, there's a different type of confidence around the Phillies after last season's run to the World Series. They're not guessing anymore. They know how good they can be now, Hoskins especially, and factoring in the usual performance boost that comes with a contract year, it's fair to wonder if all that might add up to his most complete campaign yet. 

NL East picture

The NL East's picture at first base is pretty representative of the division on the whole. 

The Mets, Braves, and Phillies – all postseason teams from last year and expected to be in contention again – have their locks at the position with each providing power to the lineup. 

Matt Olson shouldn't be going anywhere anytime soon after the Braves locked him into an eight-year deal following his trade from Oakland last spring. 

Mets slugger Pete Alonso isn't due up for free agency until after 2024 and will continue to be a problem for the rest of the division's pitchers until then. 

Meanwhile, the Marlins and Nationals, both in different stages of a rebuild, are working with stopgaps in Garrett Cooper and Dominic Smith, respectively. 

A look at how the numbers and conservative 2023 projections (via Baseball Reference) compare:

Team First Baseman (Age) 2022 Stats 2023 Projections Career WAR 
Phillies Rhys Hoskins (29) .246/.332/.462
30 HR, 79 RBI 
26 HR, 74 RBI 
Braves Matt Olson (28) .240/.325/.477
34 HR, 103 RBI 
30 HR, 91 RBI 
Mets Pete Alonso (28) .271/.352/.518
40 HR, 131 RBI 
32 HR, 96 RBI 
Marlins Garrett Cooper (32) .261/.337/.415
9 HR, 50 RBI 
12 HR, 52 RBI 
Nationals Dominic Smith (27) .194/.276/.284
0 HR, 17 RBI 
8 HR, 41 RBI 

Depth and the future

With Bryce Harper rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and not expected back until after the All-Star break, the Phillies' lineup has to be flexible until then. 

When it comes to DH, manager Rob Thomson said the spot will work on a rotation, which should include Hoskins. So on days when he's not at first, who steps in?

Utilityman Edmundo Sosa, a lock for the bench who's expected to play all over the field this season, is option one. 

Options two, provided he can crack the roster out of camp, would be Darick Hall, a natural first baseman who also has plenty of pop in his bat but struck out a lot too when he was up with the Phillies last season. 

Option three, and the guy who's actually behind Hoskins on the depth chart right now, would be third baseman Alec Bohm, who did slide over to the other side of the diamond in nine games last season. 

When it comes to the future, the Phillies don't have many infielders within their top 30 prospects and none of them are at first base.

J.T. Realmuto is already under contract and catcher typically isn't a good position for the knees long-term, so at 31, maybe the Phillies look at a transition to first base for him at some point down the line like the Twins did back in the day with Joe Mauer. However, that's purely a hypothetical assuming the club doesn't find a way to keep Hoskins, and on that end, they'll have all season to work out an extension.

If Hoskins does reach free agency, however, his future in Philadelphia will likely come down to two factors: How much will he cost? And can the Phillies find better elsewhere?

If the former proves too much in the end, the answer to the latter isn't so clear-cut. 

Phillies season preview
C | 1B | 2B | SS | 3B | DH | OF | SP | RP

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