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Kapler: Maikel Franco, Scott Kingery in open competition for time at third base



Maikel Franco (left) and Scott Kingery (right) will compete for time at third base, per manager Gabe Kapler. (Ian D’Andrea)

At the outset of this past (or current?) offseason, 26-year-old third baseman Maikel Franco didn’t appear especially likely to still be with the Philadelphia Phillies when 2019 Spring Training opened. Entering his second season, we knew Scott Kingery would be with the Phillies, it was a matter of in what role; his natural position of second base, shortstop – where he spent the bulk of his rookie season – or super-utility.

As it turns out, both are in Clearwater for the first workout for pitchers and catchers, and both are competing for time at the same position.

At his first solo press conference of the 2019 season, manager Gabe Kapler told the collective media, which included Scott Lauber of The Philadelphia Inquirer, that with the Phillies current roster construction, the expectation is that there will be an open competition at third base between Franco and Kingery. Trying to avoid the overused Spring Training cliche of a player “being in the best shape of his life,” Matt Gelb of The Athletic says that Franco “looks like half of his former self.”

Kapler’s quote today may prove to be a moot point if the Phillies ultimately sign four-time All-Star Manny Machado to play third base. Signing Machado, 26, would likely spell an end to Franco’s time with the Phillies, and push Kingery into a true super-utility role. Of course, the Phillies could instead sign six-time All-Star right fielder Bryce Harper, the other top remaining free-agent, which would leave Franco and Kingery to compete for time at third base.

Franco, who is entering his fourth full major league season, had a relative bounce-back season in 2018, following a disastrous 2017 campaign. He slashed .270/.314/.467 with 22 home runs, 68 RBIs and a 1.2 fWAR. He carried the Phillies in July, a month in which they were contending for the National League East, hitting .330 with seven home runs and 15 RBIs. At the same time, Franco also saw an increase in his ground ball percentage and a decrease in his hard-contact percentage in 2018, two negative trends for a power hitter. The Phillies are no longer expecting Franco to develop into a star, as some thought he would after he hit .280 with 14 home runs and 50 RBIs in an 80-game stint at the majors in 2015.

Kingery, meanwhile, posted a -19.3 offensive WAR in his rookie season, one of the 10 worst marks in all of baseball. The Phillies didn’t trade second baseman Cesar Hernandez, because at this juncture, he’s a better option than Kingery at that position. But Kingery hit .304 with 26 home runs and 65 RBIs between Double-A and Triple-A in 2017. He’s still just 24. Kapler said last month that he expects Kingery to be the Phillies most improved player in 2019.

In December, Kapler alluded to a change that Kingery, a former second round pick, will make at the plate in his second major league season. Kingery 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 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.

For much of the offseason, the Phillies seemed to be keeping tabs on free-agent Mike Moustakas. Moustakas, a two-time All-Star, remains a free-agent. But after the Phillies acquired All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto – replacing Jorge Alfaro, who was talented, but you weren’t exactly sure what to expect of him – they appear to be a little more comfortable with the idea of hoping that one of Franco or Kingery figures things out at third base. A Moustakas signing, should the Phillies not land Machado, doesn’t seem as likely as it once did.

Again, if the Phillies sign Machado, Franco may reside in a different zip code in a few weeks. Kingery will still be competing for time, but likely not at third base. But with just over six weeks until the Phillies welcome the defending National League East Champion Atlanta Braves to Citizens Bank Park on Opening Day, the club has to begin to plan for the 2019 season based upon players currently on their roster.

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15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Barry Onyx

    February 13, 2019 at 3:07 pm

    Can we have Kingery field and Franco hit? We dress Scott up to…. Oh. Oh, no we can’t. Forget I said that.

  2. William

    February 13, 2019 at 4:46 pm

    I don’t believe a word Kapler says!

    Franco deserves to be starting third basemen for the team . Kingery needs to break spring training camp in minors , His hitting approach is awful

  3. jeffrey m orbach

    February 13, 2019 at 6:09 pm

    Kapler is a Coconut oil salesman…too smooth to move. Maybe he observed that Franco seems to play better when he gets pushed. The big problem IMO that Franco seems to have is staying in shape during the season.

  4. Betasigmadeltashag

    February 13, 2019 at 11:27 pm

    The Phillies need to move Hernandez. Both Franco and Kingery need to play everyday in their natural position. Let them get comfortable playing and not looking over their shoulder. Or in Scott’s case where or if he will be playing.

    • czontixhldr

      February 14, 2019 at 1:52 am

      Beta, please cite me some empirical evidence that Scott Kingery can hit MLB pitching? Something? Anything?

    • Tim Kelly

      February 14, 2019 at 9:14 am

      You have to earn the right to start. Hernandez is a good player, right now he’s the better option.

      • czontixhldr

        February 14, 2019 at 10:12 am

        Tim, 100% correct, and despite Beta’s feelings, it’s not even close.

        If Cesar stays healthy it’s reasonable to expect a bounce back from him, perhaps to 3WAR status.

        Kingery has a loooooong way to go to get there.

  5. Pat

    February 14, 2019 at 1:01 am

    I want to know what does Kapler see in Hernandez? Kingery is a better 2nd baseman, is the future, and if the 2nd baseman is batting eighth in the order (providing they get Harper), the hitting isn’t as important. Also, if Kapler lets Kingery hit the way he’s used to and not take 2 pitches all the time, I think he’ll hit better than Henandez anyway.

    • czontixhldr

      February 14, 2019 at 10:30 pm

      Can I have some of what you’re smoking? Do you want to know what Kapler sees in Hernandez?

      Kingery’s rWAR was -1.5 and his fWAR was -0.1 last season. Cesar was at +1.4 and +2.2, respectively, playing on a broken toe for the second half of the season.

      Don’t get me wrong, I like Kingery and hope he succeeds and turns into a star, but last season he was not very good and hasn’t remotely demonstrated he can hit MLB pitching.

      Kingery has a lot to prove to take Cesar’s job, and right now he’s proven zero.

      • schmenkman

        February 15, 2019 at 9:33 am

        Yep, agree.

        And for the two years before he broke his toe (mid-2016 to mid-2018) Cesar was a top 10 second baseman in the game (arguably top 5, by total production).

    • john

      February 15, 2019 at 5:51 pm

      i just hope i don’t see hernandez in the 3 hole, give me head pain !. i’ve heard he doesn’t like hitting in the back end of the line up, so, produce ! i honestly thought he’d be better at this point. and he’s not great defensively , just average .

  6. Betasigmadeltashag

    February 15, 2019 at 12:24 pm

    Kapler jerk Kingery around all year. Asaznew MLB player of his skill level needs to be comfortable not learning 7 new positions and playing 3-4 days a week until injuries forced him into the line up. Just like Franco who needs regular ABs and ride the lows knowing he is going play the next day is s big help. And even though Hernandez is better right now, but if you are building to the future you need to see if Kingery can hit when he is not learning new defensive positions.

    • schmenkman

      February 15, 2019 at 2:23 pm

      He was not jerked around all year. After April, Kingery spent a _total_ of only 14 innings at positions other than shortstop.

      And they are trying to win now. Kingery’s development is important, but a) it’s not as important as winning, and b) it’s not even clear how much it’s hampered by playing a utility role. That seems more like a crutch and an excuse, to be honest.

      • czontixhldr

        February 15, 2019 at 10:56 pm

        Yup, excellent point. Again, I hope Scotty Jetpax turns into something special. But he’s not special yet.

  7. john

    February 15, 2019 at 5:46 pm

    i think franco played pretty well last year. he’s good defensively ,and he changed quite a bit with the bat. before last year, it was pull pull pull, i wanted him gone. but he really did a good job of using the opposite in the second half. and was pretty clutch at times. plus he had one of the better avg’s on the team. to me , it’s prick move making him earn anything. i’ve think he did that last year.

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