jim thome

Rhys Hoskins to play left field Monday as Phillies look to solve 1B situation

Rhys Hoskins to play left field Monday as Phillies look to solve 1B situation

More than a decade ago, the Phillies tried out Ryan Howard in left field for a few days in spring training as they sought a way to include both Howard and Jim Thome in the same lineup.

The experiment lasted less than a week, but here we are in 2017 and the Phillies have another first-base conundrum and are trying the same thing.

Rhys Hoskins on Monday will make the first start of his professional career in left field for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs.

Obviously, this situation is different from what happened with Howard and Thome. Howard ended up with 382 homers, Rookie of the Year and MVP awards and a world championship. Thome is a Hall of Famer.

Joseph, meanwhile, is a league-average offensive first baseman and a below-average defensive first baseman. Hoskins has succeeded offensively at each minor-league level but hasn't yet that received that first call-up because of positional issues.

The Phillies failed to trade Joseph ahead of the July 31 deadline because there just wasn't a market for first basemen. In a trade with the Mariners, the Athletics just basically gave away Yonder Alonso, a rental first baseman but a better hitter than Joseph.

The Phillies want to get a nice look at Hoskins this summer, about 150 plate appearances worth. They'll want to see how his bat holds up in a small sample against major-league pitching to have a better idea of whether Hoskins can or should be the opening day first baseman in 2018.

Trying Hoskins out in left field could allow them to call him up by mid-August and get him those 150 plate appearances. If the experiment fails, it's not like he'll have forgotten how to play first base. If it succeeds, it will give the Phillies another option moving forward. It will be interesting to see how a player with Hoskins' body type fares in left field; he isn't regarded as a strong defender at first base.

Still, trying this out first makes more sense than trading Joseph for 10 or 20 cents on the dollar for the sake of opening up the Hoskins roster spot.

Hoskins has hit .280/.385/.570 with an International League-leading 27 homers and 84 RBIs. He has 64 walks and 73 strikeouts. Dating back to the final two months of last season, Hoskins has 93 walks and 97 Ks. He just simply looks like a better hitter than Joseph, who has value himself as a powerful right-handed hitter but not enough to net the Phillies something enticing in a trade.

How Jim Thome got his batting stance thanks to Charlie Manuel and 'The Natural'

How Jim Thome got his batting stance thanks to Charlie Manuel and 'The Natural'

If there's anyone in the world I could sit next to for hours and listen to talk about baseball it would be former Phillies manager and World Champion of baseball Charlie Manuel.

Charlie is still very involved in the Phillies organization to this day and we're lucky enough to have 45 minutes of his time talking ball with longtime Phillies scribe Jim Salisbury.

Those two know the Phillies just about as well as anybody, so there's plenty of meat on the bone to chew on. The duo chatted for a recent episode of Sully's "At The Yard" podcast.

The story that caught my ear the most was Charlie's telling of how Jim Thome came to have that somewhat-goofy stance before he hits. It was a timing mechanism that Manuel stumbled upon in the strangest of ways.

This was when both Charlie and Jim were working for a Cleveland Indians' affiliate in the minors. 

"We were playing in Scranton and it was a Phillies triple-A team at the time. I kept thinking of a timing mechanism of some kind, a waggle or something, what Thome could do with his bat where he wouldn't tense up, where it would help him to relax and everything."

"I came into our locker room early," Manuel said. "I didn't let my players turn the TV on after a certain time. I came through the clubhouse that day, they had 'The Natural' on. I told 'em to turn it off. Some of the players said, 'Hey, Charlie, we're watching The Natural can we watch the end of The Natural? I said, 'Not really, what's the rule?'

"I saw Robert Redford standing there pointing the bat with one hand, bringing it back. I looked over at Thome, I said, 'you can finish watching the movie. From now on that's going to be your load.' I took him down in the cage and worked with him. The game started and the Phillies had a left-handed pitcher named [Kyle] Abbott. He was pitching that day. I told Jimmy, 'From now on that's your stance.' He gets up there the first time up, Abbott throws him a breaking ball away and he hit a home run to left center... I mean a longways. He come up the next time he hit another one to right center. I think he had three hits that day."

"That's a true story," Manuel added.

It sounds to good to be true. So we did a little research and Thome has told the same tale on a television special out in Chicago last summer.

"We were in Scranton and I was a guy who held the bat still and would go from a standstill and swing," Thome explained. "(Charlie) was watching The Natural and he saw that (Hobbs) kind of had this little wiggle to his stance, and I remember the day. We went out the next day, we worked early and he said 'Do me a favor and try holding the bat out there (pointing towards the pitcher) and get a little rhythm with your swing.' And from that day I never looked back. The following day we played a doubleheader and I hit two home runs."

You can listen to the whole podcast with Jim Salisbury and Charlie Manuel right here.

Chase Utley poses with statue of childhood hero Jim Thome in Cleveland

Chase Utley poses with statue of childhood hero Jim Thome in Cleveland

Jim Thome was a fan favorite in Philadelphia for many years. He also had a big fan next to him in the clubhouse in Chase Utley.

Thome ushered in a new era of Phillies baseball at Citizens Bank Park and Chase Utley flourished into one of the best players this city has ever seen alongside him.

The influence of Thome is not lost on Utley who shared a photo on Tuesday posing with the Thome statue outside of Progressive Field in Cleveland where the Dodgers are playing this week. 

"Couldn't resist the picture opportunity. Thanks big Jim for being an inspiration to me. #jimthome," Utley wrote on his Instagram.

Thome was inducted into the Phillies' Wall of Fame last summer and gave a lovely speech. During that ceremony, a video message from Utley described what an honor it was for Chase to play alongside his childhood hero.

Now Chase has another photo to go into his collection.