May 06, 2017
A funny thing happened on Saturday afternoon in Allentown: Rhys Hoskins failed to reach base.
To be fair, the Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs played only seven innings. They were originally scheduled to play a doubleheader, but rain fouled up their schedule for the second straight day.
Still, it was notable that Hoskins was quiet because it was just the second time since the IronPigs first game of the season that their slugging first baseman had failed to reach base, a monthlong span. Hoskins entered Saturday hitting .337 with an International League-best 1.083 OPS and seven home runs in 27 games.
This is the same Rhys Hoskins, of course, who had a breakout season at Double-A Reading a year ago, hitting 38 home runs with a .943 OPS in 135 games. So, is the ’17 version of Hoskins even better?
“He’s as good if not better than I’ve ever seen him,” said Lehigh Valley manager Dusty Wathan, who, like Hoskins, was promoted from Reading over the winter. “He’s driving balls everywhere. … He’s on a really good progression right now, it’s really good.”
“In spurts, yeah,” the 24-year-old Hoskins said of whether he feels as good as he did last summer. “Like the game last night (Tuesday, when he went 2-for-3 with a home run and two walks), I felt as good as I did last year. I’m just trying to stay consistent as I can, keep that feeling for as long as I can and ride that wave.”
Hoskins (who isn’t on the Phillies’ 40-man roster) has made the transition from Double-A to Triple-A seem easy, which is a credit to his pitch recognition skills and mature approach at the plate. They are skill sets that have been on display since he was selected in the fifth round of the 2014 MLB draft out of Cal State-Sacramento: Hoskins has a .291/.376/.524 career minor league slash line in 366 games through Williamsport, Lakewood, Clearwater, Reading, and Lehigh Valley.
So, naturally, a place in the Phillies lineup is the next step. But it might not happen as soon as most fans would like.
Although Tommy Joseph (.207/.267/.341 in 24 games) is off to a slow start, the 2017 season is still his first as an everyday player. And Joseph, like Hoskins, is young at 25-years-old.
The Phils owe it to themselves to continue to let Joseph get regular at-bats in the coming months in order to see if he can build on the 2016 season when he hit .257 with an .813 OPS and 21 home runs in 107 games while sharing the first base job with Ryan Howard. If Joseph heats up and has a productive summer, the Phillies have a good problem on their hands: two young first baseman with attractive offensive skills.
If he doesn’t, the Phils can call on Hoskins, No.5 in our latest Phillies Prospect Power Rankings, later in the summer.
“Look this is Rhys' first taste of Triple-A,” general manager Matt Klentak said. “He's off to an incredible start, though I'll add not necessarily all that more incredible than what he did at Lakewood, where he was awesome, what he did at Clearwater, and what he did at Reading, where he was also awesome. He's just a really good offensive player. We're pleased with that but I'm not ready to concede that after 90 plate appearances that Tommy Joseph has forgotten how to hit and we're going to turn to Rhys at this early stage.
“That's not to minimize what Rhys has done, he's been outstanding, and he's outstanding in key areas. His pitch recognition skills continue to improve, he hits with power to all fields he does a lot of the things we want to see. He's a month into his Triple-A career and we're happy to let him continue to get at-bats there.”
Tommy Joseph has two singles tonight, bringing him to 7-for-17 (.412) with a .765 SLG in his last six games— Ben Harris (@byBenHarris) May 7, 2017
Hoskins, like anyone at Triple-A, is well aware he’s just one phone call away from joining the Phillies. But he’s not consumed by it.
“I try as much as I can to keep my head where my feet are, as cliche as that sounds,” he said. “Just try to get better every day here and try to be the best player I can be.”
It's important to remember the Phillies are at a different stage than say, the Yankees. One or two prospects aren't going to make them automatic contenders; they have other holes throughout their 25-man roster (and don't have Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances in their bullpen).
While Hoskins was named the organization’s minor league hitter of the season’s first month, and Reading second baseman Scott Kingery was named defender of the month, the pitching honors went to one of the many talented arms at Low-A Lakewood: left-hander Ranger Suarez.
Suarez was almost untouchable in April. The 21-year-old is currently 2-0 with a 0.93 ERA through five starts; he’s allowed three earned runs in 29 innings, just one home run, and has racked up 37 strikeouts while walking one seven.
Unlike fireballing Lakewood rotation mates Sixto Sanchez and Adonis Medina, Surarez relies more on pitchability than sheer arm strength. But, with that said, his velocity has been up a few ticks, from 87-90 MPH last year to the 92-93 MPH range this season.
“He’s sneaky with his fastball, mixes it up and changes speeds,” Lakewood manager Marty Malloy said.
“He has a real good feel for his changeup and breaking ball, he knows what he’s doing,” player development director Joe Jordan said. “They catch him on that day when he has a feel for all three pitchers – that works.”
Since his first start of the season, Suarez has allowed one earned run in 28 innings. He’s held opponents to a .221/.264/.256 slash line in his last four starts.
A promotion to Class A Clearwater at some point in the coming months seems likely.
Quick Minor League Trivia: after Hoskins, name the Phillies minor leaguer with the best slash line (BA/OBP/SLG) since the beginning of last year. No, it’s not Dylan Cozens.
It’s Double-A Reading outfielder Andrew Pullin, who went unprotected – and unclaimed – in the Rule 5 Draft in December.
Like Hoskins, Pullin is off to a scorching start in 2017, hitting .313 with six home runs, 11 doubles, and a .974 OPS through his first 23 games. Pullin, who turns 24 in September, could possibly follow the path of Roman Quinn and Jorge Alfaro and make his major league debut before stepping foot in Triple-A, in part, because there isn’t any room in the IronPigs outfield (Quinn, Cozens, and Nick Williams play regularly, with Cameron Perkins in the mix, too).
“Right now he’s getting upper-level experience and he’s doing very well,” Jordan said of Pullin. “At some point in the time … you know, the game always takes care of these type of things, whether it’s one of the guys at Triple-A ends up in the big leagues and we have room to fill the spot. Right now, we just go through the first 3 1/2 weeks. He’s gotten off to a good start, which is great, especially up here up north.”
Again, Pullin (who profiles as a left fielder) could be a name to watch in the second half of the Phillies season if they’re able to move either Howie Kendrick or Michael Saunders (or both) before the trade deadline.
By the way, here are how Hoskins, Pullin, and Cozens stack up since the beginning of last season:
Former No.1 overall pick Mark Appel is not off to an encouraging start at Triple-A.
Appel, who turns 26 in July, is 1-2 with a 7.48 ERA and a 1.89 WHIP in his first five starts. He’s struck out 17, walked 9, and allowed 6 home runs in 21 2/3 innings, with opponents slashing .344/.398/.591 against him.
“He’s got to command his fastball a little bit better,” Lehigh Valley manager Dusty Wathan said. “You see his breaking stuff and at times it’s really good. It’s just fastball command. He didn’t walk a guy (in his most recent start), which was good to see, but he also gave up 11 hits and that tells me he probably wasn’t throwing the ball right where he wanted to, had some misses that were, maybe non-competitive pitches at times. But it’s still gotten better to me.”
Gary Sanchez looks okay. He homers off a 94 mph fastball from Mark Appel on the first pitch he sees, with a little help from the wind.— Greg Joyce (@GJoyce9) May 2, 2017
Wathan said the two home runs Appel yielded in his most recent start, an 11-7 win on Tuesday night in Allentown, were of the wind-aided variety.
“There were probably not homers except for last night and the Phillies Futures Game in Reading (last year), probably the only two times those are homers,” Wathan said. “So if he’s in the fourth inning, has fewer pitches and hadn’t given up any runs yet, then it’s just 2-2 (after that inning) instead of 6-2. I was encouraged with last night.
“(But) he’s still got to manage his pitches … we’re trying to get him to go deeper into games but he threw 90 pitches in 4 innings and right now we’re trying to keep guys around 100. It’s tough to send a guy back out when he’s thrown 90 in 4, 90 in 4 is way different that 90 in 6 or 7.”
The Phils will surely give Appel some more time to work out the kinks, but his first five starts (and his minor league track record at large) are what they are. At some point this summer, a transition to a bullpen role (future closer Mark Appel?) could be worth considering.
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