Acquiring Jean Segura from the Seattle Mariners does mean that Scott Kingery won’t be the Philadelphia Phillies primary shortstop in 2019. It doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be the team’s everyday second baseman, though.
Prior to the 2018 season, the Phillies hoped to use Kingery in a Ben Zobrist-type utility role. During the first month of the season, Kingery received playing time at shortstop, third base and both corner outfield positions. Ultimately, the now traded J.P. Crawford wasn’t able to settle in as the team’s starting shortstop – both because of underwhelming performance and two disabled list stints – forcing Kingery to have 374 of his 452 at-bats during his rookie season at shortstop. He had just 12 at-bats at second base, his natural position.
During his press conference Monday at the MLB Winter Meetings, Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said with Segura now entrenched at shortstop, the Phillies would again like to use Kingery in a super-utility role.
“Scott Kingery is one of the toughest individuals that I’ve ever been around,” Kapler told the collective media in Las Vegas. “I called Scott and told him that we just acquired this shortstop (Segura), you’re most likely going to move around the diamond again. And he said ‘OK, I get it.’ ”
As a shortstop, Kingery seemed to grow during his rookie season. Both defensive metrics and the eye test bear that out. However, after he combined to hit .304 with 26 home runs and 65 RBIs between Double-A and Triple-A in 2017, Kingery posted a -19.3 offensive WAR in his rookie season, the fifth worst mark in all of baseball. A year after a power explosion in the minor leagues, Kingery hit just .226 with a .267 on-base percentage and a .605 OPS.
Kapler acknowledged that asking Kingery to play multiple different positions during his first year in the major leagues was something that was a difficult task. However, he believes Kingery is well-equipped to handle such a role moving forward.
“I think Scott Kingery can handle anything,” Kapler said. “I don’t think this is too tough for him. And I think last year was a major challenge. And in some ways, I think there were some moments where he struggled as a result. At the same time, I’m not worried about his ability to tackle this. I wasn’t worried about his ability to tackle it last year. And I think he’s grown tremendously, both as a defender and I think he learned a lot about his offensive profile.”
Kingery, according to Kapler, did feel that he got too caught up in seeing pitches in 2018. The 24-year-old saw 4.04 pitches per plate appearance in 2018, but his .267 on-base percentage and 26 percent strikeout percentage suggest that didn’t necessarily translate to good results. What did translate to positive results was when Kingery put the ball in play – he had a .291 batting average on balls in play in 2018. Kapler went on to say that Kingery may be best served being aggressive early in counts. If he fouls a pitch off, he still could work a deeper count and force the starting pitcher to exhaust extra pitches. Or he may put the ball in play, which usually leads to good things happening.
Speaking of players that saw a lot of pitches in 2018, Cesar Hernandez walked a career-high 95 times in 2018, while seeing 4.27 pitches-per-plate-appearance, the most he’s ever seen. But despite his on-base percentage staying at .356, his batting average dropped to .253 in 2018. That’s after he hit .294 in both 2016 and 2017. He’s perhaps never tapped into his potential to be a great basestealer, despite tremendous natural speed, but between 2016 and 2017, he was one of the 10 best second baseman in the sport.
The Phillies, as they have at this time the past two offseasons, will be willing to listen to offers on Hernandez, who can’t become a free-agent until after the 2020 season. But the second base market is flooded with free-agents. The Minnesota Twins signed the recently non-tendered Jonathan Scoop last week. Jed Lowrie, Asdrubal Cabrera, Ian Kinsler, DJ LeMahieu, Daniel Descalso, Neil Walker, Daniel Murphy, Josh Harrison and Andrew Romine are also all free-agents. With that in mind, The Athletic‘s Jayson Stark tweeted Monday that the Phillies are having issues generating a market for Hernandez. Things are very fluid around this time of year, but Stark says the Phillies are more likely to retain Hernandez at this juncture, something I mentioned was a possibility over the weekend.
Even if Hernandez, 28, remains with the Phillies for the time being, Kingery will still get some starts at second base. He’ll probably spell Segura at short on occasion too. If the Phillies don’t sign Manny Machado to play third base, Kingery could be in line to get the bulk of the at-bats there as well. And with Rhys Hoskins moving back to first base, quite a few outfield at-bats have opened up. And Kapler won’t have any issue penciling Kingery in at any of those positions.
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