Rhys Hoskins gives college coach many thrills — and unexpected recruiting boost

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Rhys Hoskins gives college coach many thrills — and unexpected recruiting boost

Reggie Christiansen remembers well his first trip to Philadelphia. How could he forget it? It was the summer of 1998. He had just graduated from Menlo College in California. What better way to mark the occasion than by jumping in a Volkswagen bus with four buddies and making a tour of ballparks around the country?

"We saw almost every minor-league and major-league park," Christiansen said. "Fifty days. Five guys. Twenty-three big-league parks, a bunch of minor-league parks, 10,000 miles.

"We saw Cal Ripken and the Orioles play the Phillies at Veterans Stadium. It awesome."

All these years later, Christiansen is back in Philadelphia this week. Veterans Stadium might be gone, but the baseball experience is still, to use his word, awesome.

Like everyone else in town, Christiansen has come down with a case of Rhys Hoskins-mania. But his is a special strain. After all, he was Hoskins' college coach at Sacramento State University.

On Thursday afternoon, Christiansen was on the field at Citizens Bank Park during batting practice. He was joined by another of his former players, Brennan Leitao, a pitcher in the St. Louis Cardinals' organization and a former teammate and roommate of Hoskins'.

Two nights earlier, the pair watched Hoskins hit two home runs in a 15-inning victory over the Miami Marlins. The night before, they watched the Phillies' rookie sensation belt another one in an 8-1 win. And Thursday night, yep, Hoskins did it again in a 10-0 win. It was his 18th homer in 34 games.

It has been an incredible run for Hoskins.

Ditto for his old friends from Sacramento State.

"What he's been doing up here is pretty incredible," Christiansen said. "I got a chance to see him play in San Francisco, and he hit a home run like five rows behind where I was sitting with my family and I felt like I was in a Disney movie.

"That's the best way I can describe this. It's been like a Disney movie."

Leitao agreed.

"Rhys is special," he said. "He deserves this. Everybody is really stoked for him."

It's hard to believe now, but there once was a time when Hoskins was an under-the-radar baseball talent. He received one college scholarship offer, and that was from Christiansen and the hometown school five miles down the road.

"We saw him the summer after his junior year," Christiansen recalled. "He actually played some games on our campus. We have a big parking structure in left field, and he hit a home run off the parking structure with a wood bat, and we just felt like he was going to hit so we made him an offer. We were actually bidding against ourselves because he had no other offers.

"We knew he had a chance to be special. He could always hit. He was never a big swing-and-miss guy and the power has continued to come. He hit like 12 home runs as a freshman so the power was there. It's just been a matter of him making the adjustments at each level. A lot of the credit really goes to the Phillies for instituting the leg kick and he has just gotten better each year."

Even though he put up big numbers at Sacramento State, Hoskins remained slightly under the radar. He was not drafted until the fifth round in 2014. That's OK. He's not the first power-hitting gold nugget that the Phillies unearthed in that round. Ryan Howard was a fifth-rounder in 2001.

Leitao recalled living and hanging out with Hoskins.

"I got to understand how competitive he is," Leitao said. "Playing ping-pong, playing corn hole, just little games here and there. He's a very competitive guy."

Nowhere did that competitiveness show more than in the batter's box.

"We had some friends hanging out on top of the parking structure at our field during a game and he hit one up there," Leitao said. "It cleared their heads and went halfway deep, and they were on the sixth floor."

Christiansen was scheduled to come East this weekend to attend an amateur tournament in Toronto. He hopes to do some recruiting. That has become a little easier since Hoskins arrived in the majors and started terrorizing major-league pitching.

"He's already helped our recruiting, no question," Christiansen said. "What he's doing, he's on ESPN every night and they're mentioning Sacramento State. It's really helped. We're kind of a mid-major program. Kids see what he's doing, he came from our program and it’s an easier sell. Kids are more receptive."

During their time in Philadelphia, Christiansen and Leitao found some time to do touristy things before heading over to the ballpark at night. They visited the Rocky steps one day.

"We walked 'em," Christiansen said with a laugh.

Their nights were spent watching Philadelphia's newest attraction rack up home runs. Fifteen. Sixteen. Seventeen. Eighteen.

And the best part? Hoskins is the same guy he was back at Sacramento State.

"He's an unbelievable kid," Christiansen said. "Extremely humble."

Morphine found in Roy Halladay's system before fatal plane crash

Morphine found in Roy Halladay's system before fatal plane crash

Roy Halladay had morphine in his system when the plane he was piloting crashed and he tragically died in November, according to Halladay's autopsy report, released Friday.

Zolpidem, the generic name for Ambien, and amphetamines were also found in Halladay's system.

As TMZ points out via the Food and Drug Administration, the amount of Zolpidem found in Halladay's system (72 ng/ml) is more than enough to impair a driver and increase the risk of an accident.

Halladay had a blood alcohol content of 0.01, according to the autopsy report. 

The official cause of Halladay's death was blunt force trauma, with drowning a contributing factor.

The crash took place on Nov. 7 in the Gulf of Mexico, with more details emerging in a preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board two weeks later.

Nick Williams talks up Phillies to a free-agent Cy Young winner

AP Images/USA Today Images

Nick Williams talks up Phillies to a free-agent Cy Young winner

It's not clear whether the Phillies will add a starting pitcher before opening day, but surely they would like to.

General manager Matt Klentak “is busting his ass every single day looking for every possible opportunity to upgrade our team from every perspective,” manager Gabe Kapler said on Tuesday. “That includes looking at every option possible for the rotation.”

Klentak has kept a close eye on the trade market, but has found the prices (i.e., the young talent that must be surrendered) for top, controllable starters to be prohibitive.

He has kept a close eye on the free-agent market, but the length of contracts that top pitchers are looking for has given him pause.

For months, the Phillies have distanced themselves from speculation that has connected them to elite level free-agent pitchers Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta.

But with spring training less than a month away and both pitchers still unsigned, the Phillies would at least have to consider both pitchers if their asking prices experience a January thaw.

Six or seven years? No way.

Three years? Hmmm. Let's talk.

The Phillies are hosting a number of their young players this week. Rhys Hoskins, Jerad Eickhoff, Mark Leiter and Nick Williams were all in town on Tuesday.

Williams has set his sights on making the National League All-Star team in 2018.

“That's what I'm shooting for,” he said at Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday. “I think I had a pretty good year last year. I'm shooting for more now. I don't think being an All-Star is shooting too high.”

Williams, 24, hit .288 with 12 homers, 55 RBIs and an .811 OPS in 83 games, mostly in right field, with the big club as a rookie last season.

To give himself the best chance of surpassing those numbers — and achieving his goal of making the All-Star team — Williams has spent the offseason in Austin, Texas, working with personal trainer Jeremy Hills, a former University of Texas football player.

Williams is working hard on agility, which will help him in the outfield and on the base paths.

And guess who one of his daily workout partners is?

Free-agent pitcher Jake Arrieta.

Back in Austin, between reps and protein shakes, Williams has occasionally talked up Philadelphia as a potential landing spot to Arrieta, the 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner who will turn 32 in March.

“He loves it here,” Williams said of Arrieta, who, as a free agent and a Scott Boras client, is astute enough not to rule out any team, particularly one as deep-pocketed as the Phillies. “He has told me he likes working with young guys. I'm like, ‘All right, come on up.’ But I'm not writing the check. I don’t know what he wants. I don’t really dig into that because I'm not really in his position.”

Williams smiled.

“I hope to be one day,” he said.

Williams marveled at Arrieta's work ethic in the gym.

And he expressed gratitude for the kindness and generosity Arrieta has showed him.

“He's bought a lot of my protein shakes,” Williams said.

Time will tell if the Phillies add a starting pitcher to the group that already consists of Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta, Zach Eflin and other youngsters. The hunch is they will, though it's unclear what the magnitude of that talent will be. Klentak's search for an arm likely won't stop with the addition of one pitcher and it will likely continue through July. And beyond. The quest to build a championship-caliber staff never stops.

“The pursuit is very real,” Kapler said of Klentak's search for pitching. “I have a lot of trust that we'll either go in [to spring training] with a new toy or we will pass on the opportunity because we're better off giving this collection of pitchers a really healthy look because we thought that we could go acquire that piece a little bit later on this season or in the offseason next year.”