After refining approach at plate, Reading's Rhys Hoskins enjoying power streak

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READING, Pa. -- Phillies prospect Rhys Hoskins hit 17 home runs in all of 2015. He already has 20 of them in 69 games this season at Double A, and we've not even reached the halfway point.

But how much of Hoskins' power display is a result of his rapid development, and how much of it is the advantage of playing at a hitter-friendly ballpark?

With 11 homers during the month of June alone, Hoskins has lept into the spotlight in just the past few weeks. The 23-year-old's 20 bombs are first in the Eastern League, right in front of Reading teammate Dylan Cozens (19).

At least some of that production is Hoskins refining his approach at the plate.

"I'm really honing in on my plan," Hoskins said. "I've talked a lot with (batting coach Frank Cacciatore) about how to dissect the pitchers here in Double A. They're pitching me differently from what I've seen coming up through the lower minors.

"I'm really sticking to it, being stubborn with it, whereas in the past I kind of would float and get in trouble."

Yet even Hoskins had to admit that First Energy Stadium has been kind to Phillies batters over the years, and that maybe he's been getting a little bit of a boost from whatever makes it such a great place to hit.

"I just feel like a better hitter here," Hoskins said. "I don't know what it is. It's got its reputation as a hitters' park and that kind of gets into guys heads. And that's OK. Confidence is a big thing when you step up to the plate. If you feel like a better hitter being here and walking up to the plate up there, that's kind of half the battle — 330 down the line, that's pretty normal, 400 to dead center. There's usually a breeze, sometimes it's not with us, sometimes it is. It's not an overly small park, but it's definitely not big."

We've seen Phillies prospects go on a tear at Reading before.

Sometimes, the prospect is for real, like Ryan Howard. Howard set the Fightin Phils' franchise record with 37 home runs in 2004. Two years later, he hit 58 in the majors and was named the National League's Most Valuable Player. Two years after that, he anchored a lineup that powered the Phillies to a World Series championship.

Other times, the numbers are deceptive, like in Darin Ruf's case. Ruf broke Howard's record with 38 homers in 2012, but has since been unable to capitalize on multiple opportunities in the show.

For what it's worth, Hoskins doesn't seem too worried about whether his power production is legit or not. If he keeps swinging the bat well, that will be reflected by the statistics.

"Numbers are numbers, and yeah, numbers don't lie, but the biggest thing, especially when you start getting up the higher levels, is consistency," Hoskins said. "If you can keep doing it at home, on the road, in April, in August, in September, I think the numbers will prove themself."

Another person who is unconcerned by the potential mirage is Reading manager Dusty Wathan. He's seen some power hitters come up through the Phillies' system, including Ruf, and suggests while the ballpark may pad home run totals, Hoskins is still making good contact.

"It's obviously a great place to hit, and the place probably adds to your home run total," Wathan said, "but most of the balls that most guys hit, if they're not homers, they're probably doubles. So if you wanna take a couple homers off and add a couple more doubles, they're still doing all right.

"Most of the balls these guys hit aren't catchable balls."

Wathan also insists Hoskins is hitting for power regardless of which stadium he's playing.

"Hoskins hit a few homers last year," Wathan said. "I think he's kind of right on track. It's a little bit smaller ballpark, but the last time I looked at his numbers, they were pretty even as far as he's hit some home runs on the road and some home runs at home."

He's not wrong. Although the bulk of Hoskins' homers are at Reading — 13 to seven — the 6-foot-4, 225-pound righthander has 12 doubles on the road to only four at home in an almost an even split of games.

Hoskins doesn't necessarily have to put the ball over the fence to be effective. Until recently, he was thought of as more of a doubles hitter, but observes when you approach at bats the right way, good things tend to happen.

"A guy like myself, if I tell myself, 'Drive the ball in the gaps,' sometimes you'll just accidentally hit home runs," Hoskins said. "I guess some of them have accidentally gone over more than in the past, but as long as I keep that mindset, the balls will keep doing what they're doing.

"I can't try to hit the ball out of the ballpark. That's when guys get into trouble, so just hope it keeps on happening by accident I guess."

While Hoskins has cooled off a bit in the past week, going six games without a bomb, he's still on a near-historic pace for this franchise. He also recognizes fellow Phillies first basemen who have experienced similar surges, Howard and Ruf, both went on to achieve his goal of playing in the majors.

"It's cool," Hoskins said of the comparisons. "Those guys are where I want to be, especially Howard with the career he's had, and Ruf with what he did here and was able to make the jump to the big leagues.

"It's a path, a guideline, to say, 'Hey, they did this, they got to the big leagues.' If I can do something similar, then I've got a good chance to be where I ultimately want to be."

For now, Hoskins is biding his time at Double A where the home run chase with Cozens should keep him busy. Asked whether the two have a friendly wager of any time as to who will finish more, Hoskins wouldn't tell, but made it clear he's looking forward to the challenge.

"I'll just say I think all athletes are competitors and leave it at that," Hoskins said. "It should be a fun next couple of months."

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