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Why the clock is already ticking for Tommy Joseph and Cesar Hernandez

Both young players know 2017 is a critical year for their futures.

MLB: Spring Training-New York Yankees at Philadelphia Phillies Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It’s really not fair.

The clock should not be ticking on Tommy Joseph. He is 25 years old, has part of one Major League season under his belt, and all he did is slug 21 home runs in 107 games last season, with a second half that saw his walk rate go up and his strikeout rate come down.

The clock should not be ticking on Cesar Hernandez. He is only 26, and last year put together a 4.4-win season (according to Fangraphs) in which he got on base at a .371 clip and almost hit .300 (.294).

On a rebuilding team, these two should be interesting young players with at least a couple years at the MLB level to prove they are long-term pieces. But neither Joseph or Hernandez has that kind of time.

The heat is on, and the furnace is being cranked up by prospects Rhys Hoskins and Scott Kingery, both of whom have had fantastic springs so far, impressing manager Pete Mackanin with their approach and work ethic.

On Saturday, Hoskins hit a mammoth home run that sounded as if it had been shot out of a cannon.

Hoskins also has a double and three walks in eight plate appearances this spring. That follows a year in which he hit .281/.377/.566 with 38 HRs and 116 RBIs in AA Reading.

“He looks like he’s got a chance to be a good hitter,” Mackanin said of Hoskins after Saturday’s game. “He seemed to lay off some bad pitches. That's what we're looking for, guys that aren't going to make outs early in the count swinging at bad pitches.” (quotes per Ryan Lawrence of Philly Voice).

If Hoskins continues to show good plate discipline and puts up numbers that are about 70% of what he did in Reading (which we know inflates offensive numbers), he could be ticketed for the MLB club sooner rather than later.

That would seemingly put some serious pressure on Joseph to do well with the Phillies this season, because MLB rules still prohibit teams from playing more than one person at the same position at a time. It should be noted, however, that Joseph himself was once a top prospect and launched a mammoth home run of his own this week, too.

Hernandez is under just as much pressure. Kingery is slated for Reading to start the season, but the former second round pick has made an impression on Mackanin as well this spring.

“He’s a good athlete, he’s a gamer,” Mackanin said. “You know he’s got real good fielding mechanics, a good approach at the plate. He’s a guy that I mentioned to (bench coach Larry) Bowa the last time he came up. I said this has to be pretty exciting for him to be in his first big league camp playing against the Yankees.”

Kingery was one of four players to homer in Tuesday’s game...

...and made this spectacular play in the field.

He won’t arrive in the Majors until 2018 at the earliest, and probably not until the middle of next year. But in a way, Hernandez is also fending off J.P. Crawford. The team’s top prospect is expected to reach the Majors this season, hopefully by mid-season, which will force the Phils to make a decision with their middle infield.

Do they shift Freddy Galvis over to second full-time and find a trade partner for Hernandez? That’s the likely scenario if Hernandez struggles. Or do they keep Hernandez at second and make Galvis a super utility player if Cesar plays well?

And even if Hernandez does play well this year, what do they do when Kingery is ready to ascend to the Phils?

It’s great the Phils have prospects who are doing well and seem to have a future at the big league level. Time will tell on Hoskins and Kingery, of course, but it sure seems like they’re knocking on the door of the Majors.

Which means Joseph and Hernandez must prove themselves with excellent 2017 seasons if they want to keep those doors shut for themselves.