While the Philadelphia Phillies 2019 season has largely been a disappointment, one of the few pleasant developments has been the performance of Scott Kingery. After Kingery posted a -0.4 offensive WAR in his rookie season of 2018, the 25-year-old has slashed .259/.318/.481 with 19 home runs, 54 RBIs and a 2.4 fWAR in 2019. Kingery appears to just be scratching the surface of his potential, and he’s done so while playing multiple positions.
The Phillies hoped to have Kingery serve in a super-utility role in his rookie season, but injuries from J.P. Crawford forced him into being the team’s primary shortstop – he had 374 of his 452 at-bats as a shortstop. In 2019, Kingery has spent 458.1 innings in center field, 264.1 innings at third base, 104.1 innings at shortstop, and smaller samples in left field, right field and his natural position, second base. Phillies general manager Matt Klentak says that the offensive improvements that Kingery has made in 2019 are made that much more valuable by the fact that he’s able to play virtually every position on the diamond.
“I actually think in a lot of respects that Scott Kingery is one of our most valuable players,” Klentak said to Josh Lewin and Jon Heyman on Big Time Baseball. “And it’s not from a WAR calculation or the highest batting average or anything like that, it’s because of the flexibility that he provides Kap [manager Gabe Kapler] on a daily basis and really what he provides the front office from a roster building perspective. When you have a player that is an above-average offensive player as Scott is, who can play above-average defense in center field, at third base, shortstop, second base…heck he could probably do it in left field, right field or first base as a fielder too, we just haven’t seen him much out there…that is just an incredibly valuable player for a franchise.”
Though second baseman Cesar Hernandez has seen a bounce-back in terms of batting average in 2019, his walk percentage has dropped from 13.4 percent in 2018 to just 6.9 percent in 2019. Hernandez walked 95 times in 2018, and averaged 74 walks per season between 2016 and 2018. In 2019, he’s walked just 42 times. Entering Wednesday evening, his on-base percentage sits at .337, a notable dip from his .353 career average. When you factor in mental lapses both defensively and on the basepaths, there’s been growing speculation from some that Hernandez could be in his final few weeks as a Phillie.
But Hernandez, still only 29, has another year of arbitration eligibility in 2020. The Phillies have been willing to listen to offers for Hernandez for seemingly his entire career, but have never appeared especially close to dealing him. Kingery’s emergence would perhaps make moving on from Hernandez easier, though Klentak’s quote makes you wonder if the Phillies would want to limit Kingery to playing one position every game.
Kingery is starting in center field in Atlanta Tuesday, and there’s no clear plan at the position moving forward. It’s unclear what Odubel Herrera’s status will be once his suspension for domestic violence concludes at the end of the season. Roman Quinn has consistently been unavailable due to injuries. Adam Haseley has had an impressive September – he has a .429 on-base percentage this month – but we don’t know whether the Phillies view him as a full-time center fielder yet. So would they like to keep their options open with Kingery – the only consistent right-handed bat in that mix? Possibly.
If the Phillies brought Kingery back in the super-utility role in 2020, it’s still entirely possible that he would end up playing the bulk of his time at second base. But that would require someone else – perhaps an external option – seizing the starting center fielder’s job. It would also require No. 1 overall prospect Alec Bohm taking over at third base full-time, something that may not happen until early next summer if the Phillies attempt to manipulate his service time.
So will Kingery end up at second base full-time in 2020? Perhaps, but it may not be in the way some expect.
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