Hoskins became face of Phillies after derby

Prodigious bomb after prodigious bomb was launched off the bat of Rhys Hoskins on Monday night. The Phillies left fielder brought fans in Nationals Park to their feet and put baseball fans on notice.

He was an afterthought when the Major League Baseball Home Run Derby began. He was a household name when it was over.

The Phillies need a face of the organization. Monday night, Rhys Hoskins became it. There may be better players on the team. Odubel Herrera is a former All-Star. Aaron Nola is a budding ace who pitched in Tuesday’s MLB All-Star Game. Jake Arrieta is a former Cy Young winner charged with leading a young rotation of promising arms.

But there’s something just a little different about Hoskins. He doesn’t shy away from the spotlight when it shines eye-squintingly bright in his face the way Nola does. He’s not a new face quite like Arrieta who is trying to help take a young team on the verge of winning and push them to the postseason.

Hoskins is a homegrown talent who was hyped throughout his years of minor league ball as one of the Bash Brothers, teaming with Dylan Cozens to form one of the most dangerous home run-hitting duos in recent memory. Throughout the last three or four years of Hoskins assaulting baseballs with the consistency and regularity of Old Faithful, it was tough not to think about the evaluation I penned about Hoskins following his season with the Williamsport Crosscutters.

Four magic words still stick from that evaluation: “Not tremendous raw power.”

It’s an evaluation I stand behind, because at the time Hoskins had yet to incorporate the leg kick you see in his swing today. He wasn’t quite yet the player who hit 93 home runs in 455 minor league games. Instead, following a rookie season where he hit .237 with nine home runs in 70 games with the Crosscutters, he added the leg kick which has turned him into one of the most interesting young players in Major League Baseball.

It would have been easy for Hoskins to hide this year behind the likes of Arrieta, Nola or Herrera and allow the more experienced players to be out in front of this biggest surprise of the first half of the season. But Hoskins has been the face of the organization, even as he worked through struggles in the first month or so.

He never backed away from the media when he struggled. He’s made himself available and allowed himself to be held accountable. When it was easy for people to make fun of his double flapped helmet after he broke his jaw with a foul ball, he joined them in the fun.

When he crashed into the wall in New York last week, following the game he tweeted “Wall 1, Rhys 0.” He has the temperament, the charisma and the humor to stand in the spotlight of one of the biggest media markets in the country.

The Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles have Carson Wentz as the face of the franchise. An on-the-rise Sixers team has Joel Embiid, one of the most personable players in all the NBA as the face of its organization. And Claude Giroux has long been thought of as one of the best players in the NHL for the Flyers.

Hoskins has firmly put himself in a similar kind of position. He’s at the center of minor league marketing campaigns, having his likeness immortalized in bobblehead fashion at numerous stops in the Phillies’ farm system this summer. He’s no longer just the flash-in-the-pan rookie who hit 18 home runs in 35 games after making his MLB debut late last summer. He’s a complete hitter who has proven he has staying power, and Monday night he showcased he’s ready for the biggest spotlight the game has when he nearly found his way into the final of the Home Run Derby.

He’s exactly what the Phillies need at this point of their rebuild. It’s an affable player they can market to fans and advertisers alike. There may be bigger names added to the roster in the coming years, but none will be as important to the organization as Rhys Hoskins is right now.

Mitch Rupert covers the Williamsport Crosscutters for the Sun-Gazette. He can be reached at 326-1551, ext. 3129, or by email at mrupert@sungazette.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Mitch_Rupert.

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