If you scanned the internet Friday morning to find out who has driven in the most runs in professional baseball, you would have found a minor leaguer in Pennsylvania by way of Sacramento topping the charts.
Rhys Dean Hoskins, age 23, credits a leg kick he developed last year in Class A with getting him in rhythm. Channeling the groove from his left leg to the barrel of the bat, Hoskins has driven in 83 runs in 86 games for the Reading Fightin Phils, Double-A ambassadors of the Philadelphia Phillies.
Hoskins also slugged 25 home runs in the first half of the season, or eight more than he hit last year for the Lakewood (N.J.) BlueClaws of the South Atlantic League and the Clearwater Threshers of the Florida State League. Hoskins hit a home run every 13.4 at bats, compared with last year’s 1-to-29.3 ratio and even better than his 1-to-17.75 average in 2014, when he led Sacramento State to its best season ever.
Baseball’s blogging punditry in eastern Pennsylvania anticipates a day when Hoskins plays 62.9 miles to the southeast, at Citizens Bank Park in deep South Philly. Maybe he’ll first detour north, through Allentown, home of the Phillies’ Triple-A club, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. Maybe not, if he keeps drilling the ball.
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No matter the route, you can bet that the right-handed-batting Hoskins isn’t worried. He knows that if he continues to produce, it will mean a future where players make more money and eat in better restaurants.
“Every player in our organization’s dream and goal is to get to the big leagues,” Hoskins said in a telephone interview Thursday night from his hotel room in Trenton, N.J., where the Fightins were in town to play the Thunder. “But you can’t get caught up in looking too far ahead. You never know what’s going to happen. As long as you stay in the present, just keep living, playing the game the right way, I’ll have an opportunity when it comes.”
It was easy for major-league scouts to notice the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Hoskins playing well for Sac State at first base. During his junior season in 2014, he drove in 53 runs in 64 games and was named Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year. He made third-team Louisville Slugger All-American. His team won the WAC and advanced to the NCAA Tournament, in which the Hornets eliminated Arizona State before losing to Cal Poly.
“College is a time where you learn a lot about yourself, just in general, about life, how to do things, be a man, be on your own,” Hoskins said. “You grow up. Not only that, but I learned a lot about the game of baseball. When I was younger, I just got by on natural ability and didn’t really know the mental aspect of the game. Reggie (Christiansen, Sac State’s coach) was the first person to introduce that part of the game to me, and I’m forever grateful for that.”
A fifth-round draft choice by the Phillies, Hoskins advanced out of Class A on schedule. Over the winter, he went to Australia to work on the leg kick. At Double-A Reading, he was named the Eastern League Player of the Month for June. He’s won two games with walk-off home runs, including a grand slam. He played in the Eastern League All-Star Game on Wednesday and hit a three-run homer in the first inning.
Entering Friday, Reading’s 64-27 record was baseball’s winningest.
“The game is fun,” Hoskins said. “It’s meant to be fun, and right now, especially with the way this team is winning – winning makes everything better – it makes the game more fun. I guess I’ve been put into some opportunities to do some things, hitting walk-off home runs, being in the All-Star Game. I guess I’m just taking advantage of it. The team I’m on, I’ve never had more fun playing baseball that with this team that I’m on right now.”
Life hasn’t always been walk-off home runs and All-Star Games for Hoskins. His mother, Cathy Reynolds, died of breast cancer when he was 16.
“It forced me to grow up a little bit,” Hoskins said. “My sister was 13 at the time. Not that I didn’t take it hard, but having to grow up and be a shoulder for my sister was one of those things that helped me, personally.”
As a result, Hoskins drew closer to his father and sister, and also with his girlfriend since high school, Jayme Bermudez, “who probably knows me better than I know myself,” said Hoskins.
Some day you might see the Jesuit High School grad joining a couple of other Sacramento-area prospects. Catcher Andrew Knapp, 24, out of Granite Bay High School, and first baseman Brock Stassi, 26, from Yuba City, play for the Phillies’ Triple-A team. Then it would be on to Philadelphia, where the Phillies are rebooting with good young talent. Center fielder Odubel Herrera hit .294 in the first half and made the National League All-Star team. Third baseman Maikel Franco entered the break with 18 home runs and 52 RBIs.
Some Phillies experts see Hoskins maybe replacing first baseman Ryan Howard over the long term.
“I think my goal is to have a very long and successful career in the big leagues, wherever that may be, wherever the opportunity is,” Hoskins said. “If it’s with the Phillies in Philadelphia, awesome. If it’s somewhere else, that’s just how it is. But I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m going to replace anyone. Hopefully, I’ll start my own career, somewhere.”