There were moments in 2018 where it looked like Scott Kingery was going to meet the lofty expectations that many had for him as he began his MLB career with the Philadelphia Phillies. His grand slam in the first week of the season, walk-off sac-fly just a day later, and four-hit game in Pittsburgh were exciting and encouraging, showing the Phillies what the future might hold for the then 24-year-old rookie.
But these flashes came few and far between for Kingery, who finished his 2018 campaign as one of the worst position players in baseball. As he moved from position to position, struggling to settle in at the plate, some questioned whether the six-year/$24 million contract that the Phillies handed to a prospect with zero at-bats at the major league level was a mistake.
In 2019, the former second-round pick quickly made it clear that things would be different from his rookie season.
Kingery started the season on a tear, with a 1.046 OPS in his first 20 games and later carried the team’s otherwise quiet offense during the middle of June. Despite hitting just .192 in July, Kingery has largely exceeded expectations in 2019. So what changed from last year to allow this sudden improvement?
Kingery’s approach has shifted, as he has pounced on good pitches early in counts rather than trying to work a pitcher. While he had success swinging on the first pitch in 2018 – he slashed .448/.419/.552 – he only did so 21.9 percent of the time and put the ball in play 41 times in 484 plate appearances. The most common ending to an at-bat was falling to 0-2; he slashed .195/.216/.289 in this scenario that occurred in more than 30 percent of the time.
This year, instead of quickly working himself into pitcher-friendly counts, Kingery has started to attack earlier in at-bats more frequently. He has swung at the first pitch 33.8 percent of the time, putting the ball in play 41 times in 375 plate appearances and slashing .366/.372/.854 with four home runs. His inability to succeed with an 0-2 count has remained – he is slashing .171/.213/.303 so far – but has gotten into such a count just over 21 percent of the time.
This improved approach has led to increased production across the board for Kingery. He has more home runs, doubles, RBIs and walks than he had in 2018 in more than 100 fewer plate appearances. Rather incredibly, Kingery currently leads the team in slugging percentage.
His batted ball profile follows this same trend – after averaging an 85.5 mph exit velocity in 2018, he has averaged 88.8 mph exit velocity so far this season with increased barrel and hard-hit percentages.
In his second major league season, Kingery has also chased less balls out of the zone in his second year, swinging at 33.3 percent of such pitches this season after going after 39.4 percent of them last year. His on-paper improvement has nothing to do with luck – it is proof of a player who has recovered and adjusted well after struggling mightily in his first year at the highest level.
Alongside his offensive improvements, Kingery’s defensive versatility has offered the Phillies some much needed roster optionality. He has continued to improve at third base and in center field, although he still has plenty of room to grow at both positions. And once the Phillies move on from Cesar Hernandez (who has one more season of team control), Kingery will likely settle into his natural position at second base, where he has potential to be an elite defender.
There is plenty in Kingery’s game that needs further development. His biggest flaw is his tendency to strike out, one consistent with young players across the game. He has also proven to be very hot and cold, another problem that often plagues young players, such as teammate Rhys Hoskins.
But the overall improvement that Kingery has shown in just one year while juggling several different positions is encouraging, and points to a bright future for the 25-year-old. In less than a season, a record-setting contract extension went from questionable to potentially one of the best moves made during Matt Klentak’s tenure as Phillies general manager.
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