Rhys Hoskins primed for MLB success

Mike McGough

To those who love the game of baseball there is no bigger dream than to make it to the big leagues.

For Rhys Hoskins, a 21-year-old first baseman who spent three years playing baseball for Sacramento State, the road to achieving that dream feels shorter every day.

Hoskins’ life changed June 6 when he got the call: he had been drafted in the fifth round by the Philadelphia Phillies.

“I was actually at my house with my roommates, who I lived with in college, and with my family, my girlfriend and girlfriend’s family,” Hoskins said. “I loved being able to be with my teammates. I wouldn’t have been there without them.”

Within a week, Hoskins signed with the Phillies and made the move out to Pennsylvania to begin his minor league career with the Williamsport Crosscutters, the team’s Class A-Short affiliate. In 70 games with the Crosscutters, Hoskins compiled a .237 batting average and launched nine home runs.

Hoskins, who has been playing baseball since he was four years old, noted the improvement in his mental game was a product of his time at Sac State.

“I always knew that baseball was such a mental game, but I never really understood specifics about it,” Hoskins said. “Our head coach is huge on that, and he kind of taught me the ropes about why you have to have such a strong mind and will to play the game.”

The coach in question, Reggie Christiansen, has been coaching baseball at Sac State for seven years, four of them as head coach. He has seen over a dozen of his players drafted by MLB clubs.

“The best coach I’ve ever played for,” Hoskins said of Christiansen. “[He] knows the game of baseball inside and out, and loves the team that he has. He’s so invested in his players. I have nothing bad to say about him.”

Christiansen’s team found a groove in 2014. Sac State went 40-24 overall with a 21-6 conference record, winning the Western Athletic Conference championship before falling to Cal Poly in the NCAA Division I Baseball Tournament.

Hoskins played a big part in his team’s success. As a junior in the 2014 season, he batted .319 with 12 home runs and 53 RBIs in 59 games. He was named the WAC Player of the Year for the regular season.

“He’s just a humble, humble guy,” Christiansen said. “He’s very mature for his age.”

Christiansen explained the draft is a secondary consideration for him as a coach.

“Ultimately, you want as many guys [as possible] to have an opportunity to go on to play professionally, but I think that’s more in the back of your mind,” he said. “I think you’re just trying to help each player get better, help the team improve and ultimately win as many games as you can.”

Christiansen followed the draft over the internet and gave Hoskins a congratulatory phone call later that night. “It’s an exciting time for our program,” Christiansen said. “Having guys drafted each year just shows the growth of the program and [the] overall ability for our guys to develop. And our coaches have done a really good job recruiting better guys each and every year.”

Hoskins’ teammate of three years and former roommate Brennan Leitao reflected on Hoskins as a player. “He’s a leader on and off the field,” Leitao said. “He has really good baseball instincts, a good baseball mind.”

Leitao got the chance to support Hoskins in person on draft day.

“It was pretty awesome to see the process firsthand,” Leitao said. “It was kind of a weight lifted off his shoulders. You could tell he was getting a little stressed out [going into] the fifth round.”

Drafted 142nd overall, Hoskins said he entered the process without any preference or expectation regarding which team might pick him.

For a moment, Leitao thought it would be the Seattle Mariners that would draft Hoskins.

With the 141st overall pick, the Mariners were on the clock when Hoskins received a phone call. Hoskins took the call privately in another room. While he was gone, the Mariners picked someone else.

“He comes into the room right after the Mariners make their selection and the Phillies were on the board,” Leitao said. “He said ‘Alright, they’re going to draft me right here.’”

And they did.

Hoskins’ 70 games in Short-A ball have been a learning experience for the first baseman.

“I’m learning that hitting is so much more than just your swing,” Hoskins said. “I learned that in college and I’m continuing to hone that skill now.”

Hoskins is currently playing in a fall instructional league in Florida until mid-October. He hopes to make adjustments and continue improving so that he can be ready for 2015.

Though it has been difficult for him to leave his West Coast family and friends behind, Hoskins is happy with the path he is on.

“It’s always tough, but it’s the best job that I could ever ask for,” Hoskins said.