In the second round of the 2015 MLB Amateur Draft the Philadelphia Phillies selected Scott Kingery out of the University of Arizona. Kingery was coming off an outstanding season as the Wildcats second baseman, one in which he had been chosen as the Pac-12 Conference Player of the Year.
After signing his first pro contract, Kingery was assigned to Low-A Lakewood in the Phillies organization. He played in 65 games that summer, all at second base.
His 2016 campaign was split between two levels. He played in 94 games with High-A Clearwater and 37 games at Double-A Reading. After the season, Kingery was sent to the Arizona Fall League where he appeared in 20 games for Scottsdale. In all 151 games, he played second base.
Last season, Kingery started out back with Reading but was promoted to the Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs, just a step away from a debut in Major League Baseball. He played in 59 games with Reading – all at second base.
On being promoted to Lehigh Valley the Phillies decided to try him out at a couple of other positions to see how he looked. Kingery got his first action at both shortstop (two games) and third base (four games) but played in 54 games at his natural position of second base.
If you’re counting at home, that’s his entire Junior year at Arizona played at second base. That was followed by 335 minor league games, 329 of those at second base. And he was succeeding at the position. Following the 2017 season, Kingery was awarded the Rawlings Gold Glove Award as the best defensive second baseman in minor league baseball.
At the plate he slashed .304/.359/.530 with 63 extra-base hits (including 26 home runs), 65 RBI, 103 runs scored, and 29 stolen bases. For that 2017 performance, Kingery was honored to receive the Paul Owens Award as the best player in the Phillies farm system.
Baseball America then named him as the second baseman on their Minor League All-Star Team second team. The second baseman. The position at which he had been playing, succeeding, and excelling for three years.
And then the Phillies hired Gabe Kapler as manager, and they decided to continue their questionable commitment to Cesar Hernandez as the second baseman at the big-league level. Kingery made the club out of spring training, but he would not be given the everyday job at the keystone position.
Instead the Phillies have bounced Kingery around in his rookie campaign. He appeared in seven early-season games at third base, 10 in all at the hot corner by late May. In those early weeks of the season Kapler also put him out in center field once and in right field three times.
Then when fellow rookie J.P. Crawford went down injured, Kapler made Kingery his everyday guy. The now 24-year-old has received a baptism by fire at the most crucial infield position at the highest playing level in the world, playing in 99 games as the Phillies shortstop.
When Crawford finally got healthy again he was sent to the minors. The Phillies obtained shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera in a deal to bolster the lineup. And yet Kingery has still started 13 games since that trade – all at shortstop.
The Phillies have actually used him more as a pitcher – you read that correctly – than they have at second base since summer began.
Kingery has struggled defensively in trying to learn the nuances of the demanding shortstop position. Those struggles have leaked over to his performance at the plate where Kingery has just a .230/.272/.340 slash line with 29 extra-base hits across 434 plate appearances.
He has played just four games at his natural position of second base. Three of those came in April. He last played the position on June 15. Now comes word that Kapler and the Phillies have no intention of making him the club’s starting second baseman, now, or any time in the near future.
Meanwhile, Hernandez continues as the everyday second baseman despite hitting just .241 with 15 extra-base hits across 411 plate appearances since May 20. Some still talk about Hernandez bringing speed to the Phillies lineup. He had two stolen bases in the entire month of June. Two more in July. Three in August. He has none yet in September.
Scott Lauber at Philly.com has quoted Kapler as follows on Kingery’s future positional role with the club:
“The most sensitive, direct, and understanding way I can answer this question is that we don’t know. And I’m not going to pretend like I know. If I say he is the shortstop for the next two years, does that make him a better player? I don’t know. If I say he can move around the diamond, does that make him a better player? I don’t know.”
Here is the problem with that answer. I’m just a fan and a writer who has played and managed at my own far lower level of competition. But just from watching, playing, and following this game closely for what is now a 48th season, I know Kingery’s best position is second base.
Put him at second base, and he will thrive. His record tells the tale. The proof is in the pudding. Pac-12 Player of the Year. Paul Owens Award winner. Minor league All-Star and Gold Glove Award winner.
It is my belief that Kingery is being mishandled by Kapler and the Phillies. I don’t know if there is a wider agenda behind the move. I don’t know if Matt Klentak or someone else in the analytics realm is pulling the strings. What we are learning is that it is apparently going to continue for the foreseeable future.
That’s a shame for Kingery’s best path to development as a big-league regular. It’s a shame for Phillies fans who want to begin truly relating to what we hope will be the next generation of Phillies regulars.
It’s also a shame for this Phillies team as it tries to contend now and build for the future. The best possible team is not being put out on the field every night. Not when Scott Kingery is at shortstop rather than at second base.
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