FanPost

Phillies shouldn't promote Rhys Hoskins or Jorge Alfaro anytime soon

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

This is mostly just going to repeat stuff I've already said on Twitter, but hopefully everyone's okay with that.

Bob Brookover wrote a truly terrible column last week in which he called on the Phillies to immediately promote Rhys Hoskins and Jorge Alfaro to the majors. His logic went something like this: (1) The Yankees are good now. (2) The Phillies should imitate what the Yankees did to get them to where they are. (3) The Yankees weren't afraid to bring Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez to the majors as fast as they could, nor were they afraid to step on incumbents' toes to do it, like Brian McCann's. (4) Therefore, Hoskins and Alfaro should be brought to the majors as quickly as possible.

Brookover's argument falls apart on a number of levels. First, while the Yankees have clearly been smarter in the last few years than they had been previously, that doesn't mean you should blindly follow everything they've done just because they've started the season with a few good weeks. For one thing, we don't even know if they'll be able to keep it up. For another thing, if their success continues, it will be partly due to good decisions, partly due to luck, and partly in spite of bad decisions (just as it is with any other successful club). "The Yankees did it; therefore it's good," isn't sound analysis. You still have to individually examine the policy you want to copy.

Second, the Yankees did not, as a factual matter, bring Judge and Sanchez up to the majors as fast as they could. Both of them got nearly a full season at AAA. Yes they were younger than Hoskins and Alfaro are now, but that's because they had more success at earlier ages than Hoskins and Alfaro did and thus had cleared the sub-AAA levels before Hoskins and Alfaro did. Experience-wise, Judge and Sanchez got development time that Hoskins and Alfaro haven't been afforded yet, and Judge and Sanchez were allowed to do so even though the Yankees were bad in 2016 and probably would have gotten a short-term PR boost by bringing them up earlier. So even if the Phillies did want to blindly imitate the Yankees, that would mean staying the course and keeping Hoskins and Alfaro in AAA, not calling them up.

But the main thing I want to focus on is Brookover's ludicrous comparison of the Phillies' situation to the Yankees' decision to play Sanchez instead of McCann. Now McCann can still play a little, but he was 32 years old last year and clearly had no long-term future with the Yankees. In fact, at this stage of his career, he has no long-term future anywhere. He's a short or medium-term solution wherever he goes. So of course the Yankees were going to prefer a young guy over him during a youth movement. In addition, McCann is a fully known quantity. Neither the Yankees nor any other team in baseball needed to see him play in August or September to know who he was.

This is not the Phillies' situation. The Phillies' first baseman is Tommy Joseph (age 25) and their catcher is Cameron Rupp (age 28), neither of whom is even in his arbitration years yet. Joseph has played about two thirds of a season in the majors so far, while Rupp has played for about a year and a half. And both of them had at least some success as big leaguers last year. If you go by Fangraphs' numbers, Joseph was somewhere between #12 and #15 among MLB's 30 starting first baseman last year, and Rupp ranked about the same among catchers. Finally, neither of these guys came out of nowhere such that you'd look at their early success with a greater-than-usual level of skepticism. Neither was an elite prospect, but they were both perfectly legit ones.

Now does this mean that Joseph and Rupp are going to be great? Of course not. Maybe they won't be able to sustain the success they experienced in 2016, let alone improve on it. Maybe their Fangraphs evals for 2016 were off. (B-R was more bearish on both guys last year, especially Joseph.) The point is not that we know they're going to be good, but that we don't know. They just haven't played enough for us to draw firm conclusions yet.

The fact that they had bad Aprils, though, is almost meaningless. I think anyone who reads this blog understands the concept of small sample size. I think even Brookover understands it on some level, which is why he didn't directly come out and argue that Joseph and Rupp are lost causes but instead just danced around it, even though he surely knows full well that the only reason some readers may latch onto his overall thesis is because they're frustrated with those guys in the moment and are willing to lash out irrationally. Those are the same readers who will later demand that Hoskins and Alfaro be discarded too if they struggle in their first or second seasons. By that time, there will be other shiny new toys in the minors that they'll complain about not being able to see immediately. (Since I started writing this piece, Rupp's OPS+ on the season has shot up to 116, so he's kind of already mooted the case for replacing him in the short run. So I'll focus mostly on Joseph from here on out.)

Also irrelevant is the fact that Hoskins and Alfaro are better prospects than Joseph and Rupp were. For one thing, prospect grades are estimates. They are not 100% accurate. But more importantly, suppose the predictions are right and Hoskins and Alfaro will ultimately turn out to be better players. That still doesn't make it right to bring them up ASAP and ditch Joseph and Rupp. That's because if you successfully develop both Joseph and Hoskins (or Alfaro and Rupp) into valuable big league players, then you'll have two good players instead of one. Which is what they call one of those good problems. Why would you pass up the opportunity to make that happen? Even if Hoskins turns out to be better than Joseph would have been, wouldn't you rather have a successful Joseph with Hoskins, so you could trade one of them for something else? How exactly do you help the organization by instead throwing them into the thunderdome?

Because if Hoskins takes Joseph's job now, you'll never find out if Joseph could have been good - at least not unless another team takes him off our hands for a bargain-basement price and he turns into a good player there at our expense. He's pretty unlikely to improve at AAA at age 25 after he's already played a year, with some success, in the majors. And he's even less likely to turn into a tradeable asset at AAA at age 25, even if he does well down there. Hoskins, in contrast, is a lot likelier than Joseph to benefit from AAA time now, seeing as how he's only ever faced opposition that good for about five weeks now. And being in AAA won't hurt Hoskins' trade value, seeing as how that's where any other team including the Yankees would expect him to be under the circumstances.

So long story short, Joseph isn't McCann. Even if Hoskins was in the same boat (he isn't) as Judge was at the end of last season, there are still other compelling reasons not to hand him the job and ditch Joseph. Will Joseph eventually succeed? I don't know, but neither do you, and neither does Brookover. The only way to know is to find out by gathering sufficient data through experimentation. Maybe if this team were a contender, they wouldn't have the luxury to run that experiment, but guess what, this team isn't a contender yet. Let him play, and if he doesn't pan out, then Hoskins will still be there. You can think of it in terms of relative risk: If you bet on Joseph and you're wrong, you lose nothing of any real significance. If you bet against Joseph and you're wrong, you will have lost a player and an asset on a minimum contract - for nothing. To call for Hoskins to play now is to demand more downside with little corresponding upside.