An optimistic outlook on Rhys Hoskins in shortened season

An optimistic outlook on Rhys Hoskins in shortened season

There's a long list of Phillies with something to prove during this abbreviated 2020 season. 

Rhys Hoskins is at the top of that list. 

12 months ago, Hoskins was viewed as a cornerstone piece for the Phillies to build upon for the next decade. He was finishing up a very good first half of the 2019 season, hitting .263 with 20 HR, 59 RBI and a .931 OPS in 89 games before the All-Star break. 

Add his 2019 first half performance to a solid 2018 campaign and historic 2017 rookie season, and it was plain to see that Hoskins was establishing himself as one of the premiere power hitters in baseball. He seemed destined for a big pay day in the near future. 

Then the second half of 2019 happened. Hoskins slipped into the worst slump of his career, hitting .180 with a .679 OPS in his final 71 games. Hoskins was arguably the least productive hitter in the National League over the last two and a half months of the season.

Suddenly there were questions about his future. Could he still be that foundational piece that everyone envisioned him being?

Hoskins went to work in the offseason, altering his batting stance by lowering his hands significantly during his set-up. He said he felt comfortable with his new stance during spring training and was anxious to put it to the test once the regular season began.

Then baseball shut down for three and a half months due to the coronavirus pandemic. Now Hoskins finds himself back at work with the rest of his teammates, jamming in a three-week training camp before a shortened season starts on July 24. 

"We're kind of having to restart with the comfort level thing," the 27-year old Hoskins said Wednesday in a video conference with reporters. "Just seeing live pitching again, just like every spring training though, what we need is reps. The more reps we get we'll be fine."

"The quarantine and the shutdown, in terms of the adjustments that were made, I was really able to hone in on some of the details within the setup. I have a bat on every floor of my house and I'd just pick up the bat, get the feel of it one time, then 20 minutes later you do the same thing. In that sense it was nice to have because that's time I wasn't necessarily going to have during the season. But we'll utilize these next two weeks to get as many live reps as we can and we'll compete from there."

As Hoskins sets out to redeem himself after his second half struggles in 2019, there are several reasons for optimism. 

Namely, he's flying under the radar right now, which is a good thing. Before the shutdown, Hoskins' new batting stance and quest to bounce back were major talking points. Now, everyone is talking about much bigger concerns that accompany playing a baseball season during a pandemic. And as far as baseball storylines go, J.T. Realmuto's contract negotiations have garnered far more headlines than Hoskins' offseason adjustments. 

Then there's the fact that a 60-game season might just be tailor-made for Hoskins. He's come out of the gates strong in all three seasons of his major league career.

The numbers tell the story. 

First 34 games of 2017 - .314 BA, 18 HR, 39 RBI, 1.247 OPS

First 32 games of 2018 - .286 BA, 5 HR, 22 RBI, .951 OPS

First 34 games of 2019 - .302 BA, 11 HR, 32 RBI, 1.076 OPS

If Hoskins can put up those type of numbers for the first 35 games of the 2020 season, that would account for more than half the schedule. He'd have his confidence back as September arrives, hoping to help carry the Phillies to the playoffs. 

Hoskins' performance is critical as the Phillies set out to end a 9-year postseason drought. The road to redemption begins in two weeks.  


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J.T. Realmuto offers grim view of contract talks with Phillies

J.T. Realmuto offers grim view of contract talks with Phillies

J.T. Realmuto began his first chat with reporters since baseball’s re-start with a request on Thursday.

He asked that questions about his contract situation with the Phillies be kept to a minimum. 

But in explaining why, Realmuto said plenty.

“We were in the really preliminary stages (of negotiations) early on in spring training before the pandemic and we haven't really gone anywhere since then, so if we could focus on the team here and speak a little bit less about myself that would be greatly appreciated,” the All-Star catcher said.

If you’re keeping score at home, that’s two separate comments from two different people involved in this drama that would suggest negotiations aren’t going particularly well

Ten days ago, general manager Matt Klentak, who rarely even entertains a question about ongoing contract negotiations, offered this on the state of talks with Realmuto’s camp:

"The landscape that we left in March is different from the one we return to now. We just have to see how that manifests itself in our discussions. We still love the player. We'd still love to have him in red pinstripes for the long haul. But there’s a lot of uncertainty in the game right now on a variety of levels. We just need to play that out."

Opening day for the shortened 2020 season is just two weeks away. Given the tone of the remarks offered by both sides, it’s difficult to see the Phillies and Realmuto coming to terms on a deal before then. Once the season starts, Realmuto will be just a few months away from free agency, a place that elite players fantasize about.

Realmuto was pressed on the topic of what appear to be stagnant negotiations with the Phillies.

“There's no frustration,” he said. “I understand the business of baseball. I'm here to play baseball and focus on this team winning and getting to the playoffs.”

The business of baseball in the pandemic year of 2020 means revenues are down all over the game. Phillies managing partner John Middleton, in an email to club employees back on June 1, said the team was braced to lose “significantly more than 100 million” this season.

Realmuto, 29, has long made it known that he’s looking to significantly raise the salary bar for all catchers in his next contract – be it with the Phillies or out on the open market. Something rivaling Joe Mauer’s average salary of $23 million – a record for a catcher – in the form of a multiyear deal seemed to be the starting point for Realmuto and it really didn’t seem that unreasonable over the winter.

Then the pandemic hit. The game shut down. Even when the games come back in two weeks, there will be no fans in the stands. The “gate” accounts for about 40 percent of the revenues that most teams bring in. Teams will reap some television revenues when the shortened, 60-game season begins in two weeks, but who knows if the season will be completed with COVID-19 spiking in a number of baseball states, and who knows if there will even be fans in the stands next season. The world begs for a vaccine. Baseball’s next free-agent class begs for a vaccine.

Realmuto has concerns about how "the new landscape" will affect the overall free-agent market this winter, but, personally, he’s undaunted about the prospect of hitting the market.

“It definitely concerns me,” he said. “Necessarily not for myself, but it does concern me for the free-agency class as a whole. I mentioned a few months back that the top guys usually find a way to get their dollars. Teams are going to want them, you know. Maybe if it's not 20 teams that are in on you, now there'll be five to 10. I just think that a lot of teams will be able to look at this as a time to take advantage and actually go for it instead of backing off. As half the league will probably be trying to cut revenue and save some money and the other ones will look at it as an advantage to maybe go forward and press forward. I think that it could affect free agency as a whole, but for myself, I'm not really too worried about it.”

Even with negotiations not progressing, Realmuto expressed affection for the Phillies organization.

“My opinion of the organization has not changed one bit,” he said. “I love this organization. They've been great to me and my family since I showed up. From top to bottom, they're just good people and they care about baseball, and that's really important to me.”

It’s still quite possible that Realmuto and the Phillies find a way to strike a long-term marriage. Baseball negotiations can endure painful moments and still end up with everyone happy. But no baseball negotiation has ever had to play out against a pandemic that has caused the game to hemorrhage revenues. Had this pandemic hit 18 months ago, Relamuto’s teammate, Bryce Harper, probably would not have landed a $330 million contract.

Harper wants Realmuto to remain with the Phillies. He wants him to get paid. He made that clear when he shouted, “Sign him!” during an intersquad game at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday. 

“I hope he owns a team one day, honestly,” Realmuto said. “I might be able to catch until I'm 60 if he owns a team.

“Honestly, it’s all in good fun. I appreciate the support and the respect is mutual there. He has a little fun with it so I don't mind it too much.

“From a public standpoint, it doesn't bother me how much it's being talked about. For me I'm going to focus on this season and focus on helping this team win and that's really all I can do.”

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Phillies’ 2021 schedule includes a bucket list trip for baseball fans

Phillies’ 2021 schedule includes a bucket list trip for baseball fans

Three days after MLB’s 2020 schedule came out, the league released the 2021 schedule.

There’s so much uncertainty around baseball right now, with COVID-19 cases around the league, issues with testing, players opting out and many others wary of the virus. There will be no fans in the stands in 2020, but this look at the 2021 schedule provides some early excitement for if/when the coronavirus pandemic slows enough to allow fans back into stadiums.

The Phillies will open the 2021 season at home against the Braves on April 1. The first four series alternate between Braves and Mets, the first two at home and next two on the road.

The Phils’ earliest 2021 non-division road trip is to Colorado and St. Louis from April 23-29.

The month of May includes two long road trips — a nine-gamer through Atlanta, Washington and Toronto, and another nine-game trip to Miami, Tampa and Cincy the week of Memorial Day. The Phillies also have a home weekend series against the Red Sox.

The Phillies face a daunting slate in June, with 11 consecutive games against the Nationals, Braves, Yankees and Dodgers. That Dodgers series is the Phils’ first West Coast swing, with a series in San Francisco to follow.

The Phillies are home for July 4 (a Sunday) against the Padres and then close out the first half of 2021 on the road at Wrigley Field and Fenway Park in back-to-back series. That is a bucket list trip for many baseball fans.

From July 22 through Aug. 15, the Phils play 17 of 24 games at home, before their final West Coast trip to Arizona and San Diego.

September/October 2021 is not as heavy a dose of division matchups as usual for the final month. Only 13 of the Phillies’ 30 regular-season games after Sept. 1 are against NL East teams. Their final week is a trip to Atlanta and Miami.

The Phillies’ interleague schedule is entirely against the AL East, so these two divisions will become quite familiar over the next 15 months. The Phillies play the Rays, Blue Jays, Yankees and Red Sox on the road. They host the Red Sox, Yankees, Rays and Orioles.

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