TAMPA, Fla. — For a month last season, Rhys Hoskins was one of the most exciting power hitters in baseball. Heck, in terms of games played, no major leaguer had ever hit 18 home runs faster than Hoskins, who did it the first 34 games of his career. His 47 homers last season (between the majors and Triple A) were the third most in all of pro ball, behind two fellas named Stanton and Judge.
Hoskins got to line up across from Giancarlo Stanton (59 homers last season) and Aaron Judge (52) when the Phillies traveled to Steinbrenner Field to play the Yankees on Monday night. Actually, Judge did not play. The Yankees are taking it slow with him as he comes back from offseason shoulder surgery. He will play later this week. He did take batting practice — with Hoskins watching from the top step of the dugout — and put on a big power show, as did Stanton, who was in the lineup, hitting fourth, baseball’s classic power spot.
That’s what made the Phillies’ lineup so interesting. And unusual. Manager Gabe Kapler used Hoskins in the leadoff spot. Don’t bank on seeing that during the regular season, but in spring training … well, out-of-the-box thinker Kapler will try anything.
“Spring training spots in the lineup, spring training positions on the diamond, they’re practice, they’re processes, they’re ways for us not to do things for the first time in the season," Kapler said.
For instance, Cesar Hernandez started at shortstop. If there’s ever a time when he has to go over there during the regular season, it won’t be foreign to him.
Batting Hoskins first was a way to get him more at-bats early in the game, and a way to get him out of the game earlier so he can recover in time for the next workday.
“We’re always going to keep the long view in mind and sometimes lineups can be a demonstration of that,” Kapler said.
When the Phillies open the season March 29 in Atlanta, look for Hoskins to hit fourth. Carlos Santana might hit second. Kapler said he believes the two-hole and the four-hole are the most crucial in the lineup.
“The two-hole comes up with runners on base so often and the four-hole, as well,” Kapler said.
Lineups ultimately will be decided by matchups, data and film study. These are the new Phillies. Kapler said he could construct a lineup that has a player in a key spot in the lineup based on how his swing path matches up with an opposing pitcher’s pitch characteristics. He mentioned that he once batted third for Tampa Bay based on that very reason.
Believe it or not, this wasn’t the first time Hoskins had hit first.
“My sophomore or junior year (at Sacramento State), I did it one weekend,” he said. “We were struggling and our coach just tried to change things up. It got us going.”
The next weekend, Hoskins was back in the four-hole, land of the power hitter.