Rhys Hoskins has been a revelation for the Philadelphia Phillies since his call-up last August, but the resurgent Phils—seven games over .500 and in position for a Wild Card berth if the season ended today—will probably have to do without their star for a while.
Hoskins’ injury will go down as one of the weirder ones we’ve seen this season. Batting against Kenley Jansen in the ninth inning of Philly’s 5-4 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Monday, Hoskins swung at a pitch in and managed to foul tip it into his own face.
It was ugly-looking, but testing showed no concussions and it was believed he had gotten away with nothing but a fat lip, and even doubled as a pinch-hitter on Tuesday. But then the results of a CT scan revealed a fracture to his jaw. Hoskins has left the team to be evaluated by a specialist in Philadelphia after which his course of treatment will be decided. Depending on what is done he may avoid a trip to the disabled list, but Phillies manager Gabe Kapler has told reporters that the DL is the most likely scenario.
So how do the Phillies cope with the loss of a major hitting weapon and clubhouse leader?
You never want one of your best hitters to be injured, but Hoskins hasn’t been at his best lately. After ripping through the league in April, he’s slowed down considerably in May, hitting only .161/.253/.299 with two homers and nine RBI for the month.
This kind of skid can be expected of any young hitter although it’s also possible that his move from fourth to second in the batting order has had something to do with his struggles. The move had more to do with getting Carlos Santana out of his own early season struggles than anything directly to do with Hoskins, but it hasn’t helped him. In 19 games batting second, Hoskins is hitting only .133/.235/.267—a far cry from the .303/.449/.515 he’s produced as the cleanup hitter.
Slump or no slump, though, Hoskins is someone you’d rather have someone in the lineup than out of it. He’s got a great batting eye—he’s tied for sixth in the National League in walks—and his power is obvious. He’s also fast developing into a locker room leader on the young Phillies, and you never want to lose leadership as you arrive in the dog days of summer.
If Hoskins hits the DL, it’s clear how the starting lineup will be affected. Hoskins’ everyday place will be taken by Nick Williams, who until now has failed to displace Aaron Altherr in right field despite the latter’s serious struggles. Williams and Altherr will man the corners around Odubel Herrera.
Neither of the youngsters has played particularly well this season although Williams has shown signs of waking up over the past week. He’s homered in four of his last nine games, including his last two, and hit .273 with five homers and 10 RBI in spot and pinch-hit duty in May.
One thing Williams’s presence in the lineup may do is improve the Phillies’ defense. Hoskins is not a natural outfielder, and his limited range in left has been one of the biggest factors in the team fielding the worst defense in the league. Williams has a good arm and can run like a gazelle, and logic dictates he would improve Kapler’s outfield defense.
As for replacing Hoskins on the roster, it’s been reported that the Phillies’ No. 16 prospect, outfielder Dylan Cozens, was spotted receiving spontaneous congratulations from his teammates at Triple-A Lehigh Valley on Wednesday. Cozens is likely the second choice here—given his versatility, Roman Quinn would almost certainly have been called up had he been healthy. Cozens is not a high-average guy, but boy howdy does he have power. He’s hit 10 homers in 50 games for the IronPigs this season. He also has deceptive speed for a man his size and can play a passable corner outfield. His biggest weakness is his strikeout rate—75 so far in 197 plate appearances—but as a bench bat and fourth outfielder, he’ll be adequate.
The question going forward will be whether one of Altherr and Williams—maybe even Cozens—will step up and produce in Hoskins’ absence. If one of them manages even average production, the Phillies will be fine. They’ve gotten to this point with several key hitters (Santana, Hoskins, and Altherr to name a few) under-performing for at least part of the season so far. With a strong starting rotation, all the Phillies need is a steady hand in the outfield to continue on pace this season.
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