Is it really ever possible to predict the next coming of a perennial 5-to-6-WAR player? I don’t think it is, but when looking through a certain minor leaguer’s stats I noticed a glaring similarity to those of Paul Goldschmidt. And not just because they’re both right-handed NL first basemen.
In order to find the next Goldschmidt, we first need a little history lesson on the Paul Goldschmidt.
Goldy was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks with 15th pick in the 8th round (#246 overall) in the 2009 draft. Not exactly high praise, especially when you consider that Goldschmidt was a third-team All-American as a junior at Texas State. In his junior season, he hit 18 HR and drove in 88 runs while hitting .352 in only 57 games. He also drew nearly twice as many walks (54) as strikeouts (29) in his final season in college. The main takeaway from his college numbers is that Goldschmidt was an animal in college, but right-handed first baseman are not exactly highly sought after in the draft, which likely explains, at least partially, why he wasn’t selected until the 8th round. Additionally, according to minorleagueball.com, scouts were “concerned” about his body (6’3″, 245 lbs) at the time of the draft and thought he would have trouble with MLB pitching (to be fair, the Southland conference isn’t a juggernaut as far as college baseball conferences go).
After being drafted, Goldschmidt was assigned to rookie ball, which only makes sense if the scouts pegged Goldschmidt as a bad prospect, because drafted college juniors tend to debut in full-season ball. No matter, because in rookie ball Goldschmidt did what he does best: rake. In 74 games as a 21-year-old (old for a prospect in rookie ball), Goldy triple-slashed .334/.408/.638 with 18 HR in 337 PA. He struck out 22.4% of the time while walking at a very good 10.9% clip, showing good plate discipline for a 21-year-old scouts feared would have trouble with more advanced pitching.
The D-Backs front office rewarded him with a promotion to full-season A-ball to begin the 2010 season, but pundits around the game paid Goldschmidt no respect; Goldy ranked as the #13 prospect in the Diamondbacks farm system after the 2009 season. He proved the doubters wrong by absolutely destroying minor league pitching in 2010 and 2011. Over 241 games (1056 PA) across high-A and AA, Goldy triple-slashed .311/.397/.614, and had pretty great plate discipline as well: he walked only 9.5% and struck out 26.9% in A+, then improved those marks to 17.9%(!!!) and 20.1% respectively when he was promoted to AA in 2011. Still, he was never ranked higher than #11 in the Diamondbacks farm system, and after the 2010 season, Baseball America projected Bobby Borchering to start over Goldschmidt at first to begin the 2014. This is the same Bobby Borchering who never made it past AA and was out of affiliated baseball by age 24. If this doesn’t give you an idea of how little love Goldy was getting, then I don’t know what will.
We all know what happens next: Goldschmidt gets called up to begin the year in the majors in 2012 and the rest is history. Goldy has triple-slashed .302/.403/.534 with 165 HR and 115 SB over six seasons in the majors plus four months in 2017. He’s won two Gold Gloves, two Silver Sluggers, finished second in MVP voting twice, and has been a 5-time All-Star selection. A staggering 14.2% of his plate appearances have ended in a walk (while only 21.9% have ended in a strikeout) and, despite scouts saying he would not be able to bring positive value on the base paths, has an 81% career stolen base success rate.
If I had to pick three words to describe Goldschmidt they would be these: he is fantastic. He is easily the best first baseman in baseball right now, and on his current pace will finish his career with well over 50 WAR. Not bad for an 8th round pick. That brings me to the player who reminds me a lot of Goldschmidt, and who I think is most likely to replicate his success of all current minor league 1B prospects: Rhys Hoskins.
Hoskins has gotten a lot more respect than Goldschmidt over his professional career, though the similarities between the two are striking. Hoskins was selected in the 2014 draft with the 8th pick of the 5th round out of Cal State Sacramento. Hoskins, in 59 games as a senior, triple-slashed .319/.428/.573 with 12 HR and more walks (39) than strikeouts (31). Look familiar? Because it should. Hoskins, like Goldschmidt, was also selected as an All-American in his junior year of college. Hoskins, again, like Goldschmidt, is also a right-handed first baseman, so he wasn’t highly coveted in the draft, though the fact that he was drafted three rounds higher has to mean something.
Hoskins, unlike Goldschmidt, struggled in his first season in pro ball. Hoskins was assigned to short-season A-ball after the 2014 draft to begin his pro career, and triple-slashed .237/.311/.408 in 70 games, which isn’t awful, but certainly leaves a lot to be desired. He hit only 9 HR, a far cry from his 12 HR in 59 college games, and he struck out nearly three times as much as he walked (19.8% and 7.7%, respectively). For a 21-year-old, the numbers were not all that special, because he wasn’t young for his age.
He began to right the ship in 2015, where he slashed .319/.395/.518 across A and A-advanced, adding a solid 17 HR in 135 games. He also cut his strikeout rate down to 17.4% while improving his walk rate to 9.7%. Still not Goldschmidt-level numbers (in 2015, he still hadn’t gotten to the point where he was embarrassing opposing minor league pitchers), but Hoskins is clearly making progress.
2016 is where it begins to get ridiculous. Hoskins entered the season as the Phillies #23 overall prospect and his first assignment was to Double-A Reading, which may as well be called “Coors Field East” because of how hitter friendly it is. That’s why many folks remained skeptical after Hoskins triple-slashed .281/.377/.566 with 38 HRs in 135 games. Hoskins finished second in the minor leagues in long balls to his teammate, Dylan Cozens (Cozens and Hoskins are aptly referred to as the “Bash Bros.” They’ve hit back-to-back at AA and AAA over the past season and a half, and have combined for 129 HR in that time span), but still didn’t crack the Baseball America top 100 prospects, or MLB’s top 100 prospects heading into 2017 (He was ranked as the Phillies #6 prospect by Baseball America).
It would appear that Hoskins took the oversight personally, because, this season, he’s triple-slashing a career-best .280/.383/.571 with 29 HR in 115 games. The HR total ties him for second in the minors; only Renato Nunez has more. He has also improved on his already stellar plate metrics. Hoskins sports a career-best 13.6% walk rate, 16.0% strikeout rate, and a paltry 6.4% swinging strike rate.
Hoskins is proving that his 2016 season in Reading was no fluke (unlike Cozens, whose OPS has dropped nearly 200 points), and is likely to get the call to the majors any day. Tommy Joseph, a 26-year-old second-year veteran, who has been relatively unimpressive in 763 MLB PA with a .251/,307/.467 triple-slash and 0.0 rWAR (Fangraphs has him pegged at 0.4 fWAR). He has shown power, as his slugging indicates, and 37 HR in 763 PA is a 30-HR bat over a full season, but the fact of the matter is that Hoskins is just flat-out better. He was better than Joseph at every stop in the minors, the only advantages Joseph has is that he is the incumbent, and that he has already proven he can hit major league pitching. I don’t think that should prevent Hoskins from getting MLB playing time, though, because players who command the strike zone in the fashion Hoskins has in the minors in 2016 and 2017 tend to be able to do make an easier transition to the majors.
In an effort to get Hoskins everyday playing time in the majors, the Phillies have begun to play him in left field in AAA, and assuming that it isn’t a train wreck, left field is where Hoskins will make his MLB debut. Whether he’ll end up as the next Paul Goldschmidt I can’t say for certain, but I can say that Hoskins is the closest thing we have to Goldschmidt that isn’t already in the major leagues. Hoskins looks like a franchise cornerstone in the making, and has the possibility of joining the MVP conversation as soon as 2018, provided he can build on what he has already accomplished in the minor leagues.
EDIT (Thursday, Aug 10, 11:37 AM): According to Phillies beat reporter Todd Zolecki, Rhys Hoskins has been recalled from AAA. He will likely start in left field tonight against the New York Mets in Citizens Bank Park.
(Image Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)