Rhys Hoskins made his big league debut on August 10 this past season, a late addition to a team destined for fifth place. Eighteen home runs later, the marketing department was scrambling to put together a promotion around the 24-year-old fifth round draft pick who, by September 15, had given people a reason to come watch a 57-89 team finish out the year.
They called it the Rhys Lightning Ticket Bundle, and it gave you the chance to attend a Phillies game during a series against the A’s, with a free Hoskins t-shirt to boot. It came at the perfect time, on the heels of another Hoskins power surge—not only had he just been named NL Rookie of the Month, he’d also hit six home runs in the last six games to enter the weekend.
Sadly, those dingers were the last Hoskins would hit in 2017. But that hasn’t stopped the Phillies from believing they’ve hit a home run.
From ringing the bell at a Sixers game with J.P. Crawford, to filming a video for the #NoOffseason hashtag, Hoskins has been front and center as the Phillies have generated content to fill the empty off-season. Today, the annual Phillies Caravan begins, a time of year when several of the hottest representatives and Mark Leiter, Jr. pile into a wagon train and push from town to town to eat dinner and take questions from the fans. Hoskins will be appearing in Reading tonight with Leiter, Gabe Kapler, and Jerad Eickhoff, having attended the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association banquet on January 15, and being set to appear at the Phillies College Winter Summit on Wednesday night.
A story on Phillies.com is now literally calling him “the face of the Phillies,” putting an unsubtle exclamation point on the work the marketing team has done to get that point across thus far.
And who, watching Hoskins bomb the outfield seats late in the 2017 campaign, wasn’t imagining exactly that? What prospect could generate excitement in the minors, continue that success at a record-breaking pace at the major league level, and finish fourth in NL Rookie of the Year balloting despite only appearing in 50 games and not get shoved to the front of a starved marketing department’s priorities?
On top of the bright lights and adoring fans, the team is shifting the roster around to keep Hoskins in the lineup. Having acquired Carlos Santana to play first base, Hoskins is being moved to the outfield, in all likelihood forcing a trade of at least one other promising young Phillies player among Odubel Herrera, Nick Williams, and Aaron Altherr.
Given the Phillies’ need for starting pitching, everything seems to align in a world in which one or two young, talented outfielders are now tradable. The team has said that while making a deal is certainly on the table, there’s been no indication of who among those named is the most likely be moved, to where, and for what. The only other “clarity” the Phillies have released is that, actually, they might not trade anyone, and make a four-man outfield work, which is, yes; Matt Klentak throwing another rock in the pond to muddy the waters when it comes to revealing any actual plans. And it’s not the first time. Prior to Freddy Galvis’ trade to San Diego, the question of who would continue to exist in the Phillies infield among Galvis, Cesar Hernandez, J.P. Crawford, Scott Kingery, and Maikel Franco was answered by a plethora of viable scenarios—but one of them was hey, what if we just kept everybody and engaged in some “positional flexibility.”
Given the resources at his disposal and the lack of a gun to his head, Klentak has rarely deviated from his philosophy of “We could do something, but we could do anything, who knows.” It’s made the Phillies’ moves easy to imagine, but difficult to predict: The initial response to the Phillies’ rumored interest in Santana at the MLB Winter Meetings had been confusion (Hoskins seemed to have first base covered). With the Santana deal having settled in, his role in Klentak’s offense—another area where we’ve gotten some openness is that the GM is seeking players who can “control the strike zone”—has become easier to envision. But his presence has bred further questions.
So what are we expecting? A power point presentation breaking down each phase of the Phillies’ forthcoming moves? Don’t be ridiculous. Klentak outlines his plans solely on analog platforms to avoid being tracked by his enemies. But the more conspiratorial among us might suggest that the comment on the possible four-man outfield exists solely to keep the young outfielders who may or may not (but probably will) be traded from hanging their heads or looking over their shoulders. The team doesn’t want its assets playing in an uncomfortable state, lowering their trade value and defeating the purpose of all of this.
Herrera, Williams, and Altherr have all appeared in promotional materials for the Phillies this off-season as well. Everyone gets a turn eventually, but the Phillies have made it very clear that Hoskins is the front man. All off-season long, and even going back into last season, John Stolnis has said and said again on the Felske Files that the Phillies need “a guy:” Somebody to build around, market to the people, and get fans excited about before this next generation can truly begin. The Phillies would have us believe they are at that point, and perhaps they are. It’s impossible to look at a slugger like Hoskins with solid plate discipline, surrounded by the likes of Crawford, Herrera, Nola—hell, even Leiter was looking good by the end of the year—and not think about the future.
Until the Santana signing, the Phillies’ rebuild was considered to be somewhere in the middle, but bringing in the veteran allowed onlookers to get their bearings. The deal was compared to the Nationals signing Jayson Werth before the 2012 season; a supplemental move to help fortify a team steadily on the rise. It’s worth asking who called for the ignition, Matt Klentak and Andy MacPhail’s front office or John Middleton’s hands-on ownership, but the ripple effect is already palpable. Through the ticket promotions, public appearances, and obvious headlines, one thing in the Phillies’ slowly revealed plans has become clear: After only 50 games, Hoskins has been chosen as the guy who is going to be here, and in doing so, the team has begun to indicate who will not.