Phillies’ Rhys Hoskins has gone from unwanted to unbelievable
NEW YORK — No one wanted Rhys Hoskins.
The Phillies’ rookie left fielder was hardly a blip on anyone’s radar when he finished his career at Jesuit High School in Carmichael, Calif. Forget about getting drafted — Hoskins couldn’t even get the attention of college programs.
In an age when talented athletes often specialize in one sport by the time they get to high school, Hoskins was an anomaly. He elected to play baseball, basketball and football through his senior year. When it came to hoops, Hoskins told Sporting News that he “did all the stuff no one else wanted to do” below the basket. Playing wide receiver under Friday night lights, he remembers being “a little slimmer, a little faster back then.”
Hoskins knew early on that baseball was his future, but he wasn’t ready to give up other sports. Rather than play one, he chose to cherish time spent on different teams with different friends. He skipped baseball showcases for the hardwood and the gridiron, decisions that may have hurt his standing in the eyes of scouts.
“I guess that wasn’t the main focus at the time. I thoroughly enjoyed the high school sports that I played,” Hoskins said. “I wouldn’t trade the things I learned and the people I met and coaches and teammates that I had to be able to go back and do some of those showcases. I was lucky enough that it all worked out in the end.”
Work out it did.
These days Hoskins is taking the majors by storm. He debuted Aug. 10 and immediately went on a power surge. Thirty games later, the 24-year-old has become the fastest player ever to 14 career home runs. On top of that, he’s slashing .296/.420/.722 with 32 RBIs.
Not bad for a guy who was barely recruited out of high school.
The only college to offer Hoskins a chance was nearby Sacramento State. While almost everyone else saw an unpolished ballplayer and had concerns about his commitment, Reggie Christiansen saw a young man with a hefty stroke and an even greater sense of maturity.
The Hornets’ coach, surprised no one else was in pursuit, said bringing Hoskins in was a “no-brainer.”
“He was an extremely gifted athlete that was probably a late bloomer on the baseball side because he hadn’t focused fully on baseball. He was strong,” Christiansen told Sporting News. “You could see that he was gonna hit with power. He had a good ability to make contact and put the ball in play. On the non-baseball side, he’s very smart, great student, very humble.
“He had to grow up way faster than most of us.”
For Hoskins, the disappointment of not being heavily recruited pales in comparison to personal tragedy.
Hoskins’ mother, Cathy Reynolds, died when he was just a sophomore in high school. She had been battling breast cancer for 14 years before the disease took her life in 2009. It was the middle of Jesuit’s basketball season.
A fixture at all of Hoskins’ games despite her sickness and a demanding law career, Reynolds seemed ever-present. So was Hoskins after her death.
Joe Poltuny, Jesuit’s baseball coach, told Hoskins he could take that baseball season off if he needed to. Hoskins wouldn’t bite, though.
He was out practicing the day basketball season ended, Poltuny said.
“He didn’t miss school. His demeanor didn’t change. And not to say it in any way callous, at 15, 16 years old — he handled it like an adult,” Poltuny told Sporting News. “It was just even-keel. Obviously, he’s carried it with him later in life as a young adult. She meant a lot to him.”
Poltuny and Christiansen had plenty more to say about Hoskins’ mental makeup, singling it out as a driving force not only in how he handled his mother’s death, but his career as well.
College recruitment was not the last time Hoskins would be overlooked. He wasn’t drafted until the fifth round in 2014. From there, Philadelphia took a conservative approach with his promotions despite monstrous seasons at the plate. It wasn’t until this summer that he made a reputable top-100 prospect list, cracking Baseball America’s at No. 69.
“To not see the results right away is something that’s probably pretty frustrating at the time,” Hoskins said. “But there’s always a process going on whether you realize it or not at the time. But I was able to flip the opportunity that I was given into something that has turned out pretty well.”
Hoskins said he doesn’t play with a chip on his shoulder, despite being consistently overlooked in high school and college, though Christiansen begs to differ.
“I know those kinds of things — whether he’s going to admit to it openly or consciously or subconsciously — I know he’s always been a guy that’s motivated by not getting the acknowledgement of other schools recruiting him more,” said the coach, who texts Hoskins four to five times a week. “There’s no question.”
Looking back, Hoskins said he has no regrets over his decision to play three sports rather than concentrate on baseball. He admits that “a lot of development” was required in college and then the minors. Both his coaches question whether different choices in high school would’ve made a difference.
“Who knows? I don’t think anybody can go back and say, ‘If he would have done this, would he have gone to a bigger school? Would he have gone on to play in the big leagues earlier?’ That’s just speculation,” Christiansen said. “Everybody has their own story and journey.”
Poltuny agreed, suggesting that all the showcases Hoskins skipped could have actually helped him.
“There’s literally a showcase event every weekend and it’s more about money now than being truly a big event,” Poltuny said. “A scout once told me, ‘Parents think they’re getting their son exposure. All they’re doing is getting their son exposed.’ And then he went on with the famous, ‘You can’t make chicken salad out of chicken you-know-what.’ And it’s really true.”
Clearly, not enough people considered Hoskins to be chicken salad. He wouldn’t change a thing, though. Not about his own path, anyway.
What he would change is the trend of specialization.
“It can lead to some guys getting burnt out too quick. You do one thing, eventually you’re going to get tired of it,” Hoskins said. “You ultimately end up getting tired out of it at an early age, which is not what you want as an athlete. I would encourage people to play as many sports as you can. You learn a lot of different things in different sports. It can only help you down the road.”
Hoskins still likes to shoot hoops and play football with friends as a means of conditioning. But he insists, “We try to stay away from full-go, just with the threat of an injury.”
Wise thinking. The Phillies would hate to lose their new star to a pickup game.
Everyone else, meanwhile, already missed out on Hoskins.
“One school really went after him and now you look backwards and it’s like Joe Montana or [Tom] Brady getting drafted after all these other guys,” Poltuny said. “When you work backwards, it’s like, well, everyone was a dummy.”
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