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Kapler predicts Scott Kingery will be Phillies most improved player in 2019


Scott Kingery is entering his second major league season. (Ian D’Andrea)

If you’re in the business of reading social media comments, you know that Philadelphia Phillies manager Gabe Kapler drew the ire of many Phillies fans for how he was perceived to have used Scott Kingery in his rookie season.

The truth is, 374 of the former second-round pick’s 452 at-bats in 2018 came while he was playing at shortstop. Kingery didn’t have more than 35 at-bats at another position in 2018, because J.P. Crawford was limited by injuries to just 49 games in 2018, and was underwhelming when he played. Shortstop isn’t Kingery’s natural position, but although there were some growing pains in the field in 2018, advanced metrics and the eye test suggest that he improved rather drastically as he got comfortable at shortstop. 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.

It is true that when the Phillies signed Kingery to a six-year deal at the conclusion of free-agency, it was because they felt that he left them no choice but to put him on the major league roster. Cesar Hernandez, who had graded out as a top 10 second baseman between 2016 and 2017, would be the regular second baseman. Before circumstances forced him to shortstop on a regular basis, the Phillies planned to used Kingery in a Ben Zobrist-type utility role.

With Crawford having been used to acquire Jean Segura, who will man shortstop nearly every game, there was some thought that Kingery would become the Phillies full-time second baseman in 2019. But with an oversaturated second base market, the Phillies weren’t able to work out a trade for Hernandez. So while Kingery will likely see some time at second base, Hernandez, the longest-tenured Phillie, will again be the regular second baseman in 2019. That means that in 2019 Kingery will be used in the super-utility role that the Phillies anticipated him playing in during the 2018 season.

Regardless of where he’s playing on the diamond, Kapler feels good about the jump Kingery will make in his second season.

“He [Kingery] can play all over the diamond, and we’re going to utilize him all over the diamond,” Kapler told John Stolnis on the “Hittin’ Season” podcast. “If I had to lay my money down on the most improved player in 2019, I’d probably lay it on Scott Kingery. He’s gonna be a lot better than the version we saw last year.”

During December’s MLB Winter Meetings, Kapler relayed that Kingery felt 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 said in December 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.

Should Kingery have a breakout second season in 2019, he figures to be in the lineup on an everyday basis. Kapler says the Phillies are comfortable with Kingery playing shortstop, second base, third base and all three outfield positions. Given the Phillies current roster construction, one would think Kingery is likely to see a bulk of his at-bats at third base and in the two corner outfield positions. Of course, a signing of Manny Machado or Bryce Harper, and subsequent trades/signings could completely change that plan. But even after a rocky rookie season, the Phillies appear very confident in Kingery.

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