Rhys Hoskins was about to eat lunch last week in California when his phone rang. It was Gabe Kapler, and the Phillies manager had news to deliver. The team was signing first baseman Carlos Santana.
Hoskins, who broke into the majors last summer as a leftfielder but expected to return this season to his natural position of first base, became an outfielder again.
“Honestly, I was a little bit surprised,” Hoskins said by phone Wednesday. “But it means a whole lot that this guy was keeping me in the loop and wanted my opinion on it. It’s exciting. Santana is obviously a great player, and I think he’s going to impact this team in a lot of different ways on the field and the clubhouse.”
Hoskins played 33 games last season in left field between triple A and the majors. He had not played there since freshman year of college. Hoskins handled himself fine, and said his confidence will grow with the more time he spends at the position. The Phillies likely would not have signed Santana if they were not already confident that Hoskins can play somewhere else besides first base.
“Rhys had a very short time to get ready to play left field and handled himself pretty well with very little experience out there,” general manager Matt Klentak said. “With more training, more preparation, more work he’s going to get better at it. Rhys is such a good athlete and has such good baseball instincts that I have no doubt that he will turn himself into a quality leftfielder.”
The Phillies were attracted to Santana for some of the same reasons why they value Hoskins so highly. Both players hit for power but also reach base at a high rate. They walk nearly as much as they strike out and consistently work deep counts.
Santana had a .363 on-base percentage last season with 88 walks and 94 strikeouts. Hoskins, who had 455 fewer plate appearances, had a .396 on-base percentage with 37 walks and 46 strikeouts. Both averaged more than four pitches per plate appearance last season. A possible Phillies lineup could feature Santana batting second with Hoskins batting third.
“If I’m batting behind him, who doesn’t like to hit with guys on base?” Hoskins said. “The more guys we get on base, the more chances we have to score. Adding a guy like that to your lineup is pretty awesome.”
“The idea of having Santana and Hoskins in the middle of the lineup with their power and strike-zone control is a dream,” Klentak said. “That’s how winning teams are made.”
Klentak and Kapler talked last week as the deal with Santana progressed. Perhaps, they decided, they should let the current players know. Hoskins, who Kapler met last month for dinner in Center City, was the first person the manager called.
Hoskins told Kapler that he would do whatever it took to help the team. That, Klentak said, was the answer of a “consummate leader.” The general manager said Hoskins’ response made him comfortable to move forward with Santana. The Phillies had a new first baseman. And they learned even more about a player they already valued.
“It’s a manager’s dream,” Kapler said. “I’ll tell you what else is a manager’s dream: Having two individuals who recognize and value flexibility. Not just to them as individuals but to the organization and a team. It’s so frequent around the league where it’s ‘No, no, no. This is what I do. I hit in the three hole. I play this position. I do this everyday.’ It’s almost taken as a blow to the ego if you ask them to do anything else. But I think these guys have a higher level of intellectual capacity, and they recognize that this is very good for both the Phillies and them.”