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The Phillies’ Plans For First Base

Last Thursday afternoon, in a game at BayCare Ballpark, Rhys Hoskins attempted to field a ground ball just beyond the infield dirt. While doing so, he appeared to have suffered a significant knee injury. The 30-year-old was then carted off the field.

Later that evening, the team announced that their longest-tenured position player tore his left ACL. Hoskins will undergo surgery and will likely miss the entire 2023 season. It was set to be the most important year of Hoskins’ career.

The first baseman is slated to become a free agent this offseason. He was likely going to cash in big-time as one of the most productive hitters on the market. Now, Hoskins will be coming off an ACL reconstruction surgery. Given the circumstances, instead of signing a hefty contract, he is probably going to receive a shorter and less lucrative deal than he would’ve received if healthy. The Phillies’ first baseman was also supposed to be right in the middle of everything they did offensively as they defend their 2022 National League championship. 

Hoskins’ Career At A Glance

A year ago, Hoskins hit .246/.332/.462 with 33 doubles, 30 home runs, and a 122 OPS+ in 672 plate appearances. The former fifth-round pick debuted with the Phillies in 2017. Since then, he has become one of baseball’s more productive right-handed hitters. Since August 10th, 2017 — Hoskins’ debut — he’s third in home runs (148), seventh in doubles (149), first in walks (388), and sixth in RBIs (405) among right-handed batters.

Hoskins has also always been a near guarantee to appear in Philadelphia’s lineup. Outside of missing time at the start of 2021 after having minor elbow surgery before the season, Hoskins has rarely missed time because of injury. He has made 2,876 plate appearances since his major league career began. That’s fourth-most among right-handed hitters during that span. 

During Philadelphia’s postseason run last fall, the California-born first baseman slugged six home runs. That was tied with teammates Bryce Harper and Kyle Schwarber for the most in the playoffs. 

Hoskins will always be remembered for his NLDS Game 3 three-run home run off Atlanta starter Spencer Strider. Hoskins spiked his bat in celebration after driving a middle-in fastball into the left field seats. The blast sent Citizens Bank Park into a frenzy. It was quite a scene and one that will always be fondly remembered in the city of Philadelphia.

The Phillies are now tasked with replacing one of their franchise cornerstones. It won’t be easy, though. In fact, replacing Hoskins isn’t really the right term. His offensive production, and clubhouse importance, probably can’t be matched by anyone else. So, instead, they’ll have to find someone to take over Hoskins’ first base duties. And doing so will likely affect other parts of the lineup in the process.

First Base Options

Right now, Darick Hall is going to be the primary first baseman. He was likely going to make the roster as the club’s main DH option but will now have a more important role. First base is his natural position, so there shouldn’t be any problems from a defensive perspective. The issue with Hall, though, is that as a left-handed hitter, he struggles against left-handed pitching. He made 142 major league plate appearances last season, and only 12 came against southpaws. That speaks volumes as to how the Phillies felt about Hall facing same-handed pitching last year.

President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowksi commented on Hall’s role against both righties and lefties:

In total, Hall slashed .250/.282/.522 with nine home runs in his limited plate appearances for the Phillies last season. The 27-year-old hit well this spring. Entering the team’s final spring game, Hall was hitting .296/.397/.611 with five home runs in 63 plate appearances.

With Hall being the club’s primary first baseman, it will impact how Rob Thomson fills out his lineup card on a nightly basis. The Phillies manager will also have to figure out what to do if the club doesn’t want Hall playing when they face left-handed starters.

As previously mentioned, Hall was set to be the Phillies’ main DH. So, with him now playing first, the DH role is open for others. That leaves three players — Nick Castellanos, Kyle Schwarber, and Alec Bohm - to get a bulk of the DH at-bats.

If Castellanos or Schwarber DH on any given night, that would likely mean Jake Cave, Josh Harrison, or Dalton Guthrie would play a corner outfield spot. On nights when Alec Bohm is penciled in as the team’s DH, Edmundo Sosa or Harrison would likely man the hot corner.

If Hall sits against lefties, Alec Bohm is probably the next man up on the first base depth chart. He has played there — sparingly — during his time in the majors. 

Another first base option for the Phillies is Kody Clemens, who will be starting the year in Triple-A. The former Texas Longhorn has experience at first base, along with other positions. So, as the season progresses, there could be a point in time when Clemens takes on a first base/utility role off the bench if needed.

There are external first base options the Phillies could pursue, but it doesn’t seem likely at this point. The most probable course of action the organization will take when it comes to first base is using their internal options to open the season. And, if needed, the front office will look to bring in help during this summer’s trade deadline.

Also, Dave Dombrowski recently announced the club would not be placing Bryce Harper on the 60-day injured list. At least to start the season. They are optimistic that the two-time NL MVP could be back from offseason Tommy John surgery earlier than they had originally thought. If the club struggles offensively without Hoskins during the first month or two of the 2023 campaign, Harper, at that point, could be close to returning, which could help the middle of the lineup.

It’s clear the Phillies can’t replace Rhys Hoskins when it comes to his production at the plate or his off-field importance. He’s a middle-of-the-order bat who is more than capable of slugging 30-plus home runs. The 30-year-old is also a clubhouse leader.

With Rhys Hoskins out for 2023, and less-than-ideal options to use in his place, first base has become a major storyline for the Phillies this season.

Bailey Digh

I've been writing for Diamond Digest since July 2022. I'm also currently a contributor for Phillies Nation. You can find me on X @bailey_digh.

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