Scott Kingery will start in center field for the Philadelphia Phillies Friday. The team hopes that he can make an impact this weekend, as the organization attempts to snap an eight-year postseason drought.
Make no mistake, though, 2020 has essentially turned into a lost season for Kingery, who many thought would break out if given the chance to play second base on a full-time basis.
Kingery, 26, enters the final weekend of the season with a slash line of .146/.221/.272 and an unsightly .493 OPS. According to FanGraphs, he has a -0.6 WAR. To say the season hasn’t gone as planned for Kingery would be an understatement.
Of course, 2020 hasn’t been as simple as him just drastically underperforming expectations. Kingery battled COVID-19 for much of the month of June, a scary time in his life that he detailed to Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia. Even if by the time that the Phillies opened the 2020 season in late July Kingery could pass a COVID-19 test, it’s hard to believe he had the chance to properly prepare for the 2020 season. What’s more, he was hampered in the early season by a shoulder injury, one that ultimately landed him on the injured list and cost him most of the first half of September. There does need to be some nuance in this discussion.
That said, if Kingery had enough at-bats to qualify, he would grade out as one of the worst offensive players in baseball in 2020. Ditto for his rookie season of 2018. He jumped out to a hot start in 2019, but hit just .230 after the All-Star Break. So where do the Phillies stand on a player the organization once viewed as a potential building block?
“Well, I think we expect him to be an everyday player going into next season,” manager Joe Girardi said of the organization’s outlook on Kingery moving forward. “He’s had a tough season with the COVID and then the shoulder and back that he had to deal with, so it’s been a trying year for him. But I would expect him to really have a bounce-back season next year.”
It is fair to wonder exactly what position Kingery will be playing at everyday to open 2021, if it does prove to be the case that the Phillies enter with him starting at one specific position.
Girardi told Phillies Nation earlier this month that despite sub-optimal defensive metrics, the Phillies view star rookie Alec Bohm as a third baseman moving forward. If Didi Gregorius – who Girardi spoke glowingly of Friday – is re-signed, that seemingly only leaves second base as an option for Jean Segura. Segura, who has been one of the team’s most valuable players in 2020, has four defensive runs saved in 223.1 innings at second base this season. Kingery has -6 defensive runs saved in 201.1 innings at second base in 2020.
If Gregorius isn’t re-signed, all bets are off. Perhaps the Phillies could sign another veteran like Marcus Semien, Andrelton Simmons or even Freddy Galvis. But with a historic free-agent class of shortstops looming next year – one that could include Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa, Javier Baez, Trevor Story and Corey Seager – the Phillies could opt to keep things in-house if they don’t re-sign Gregorius. Remember, 2019 first-round pick Bryson Stott, a natural shortstop, is already 22, so it’s also possible he could be ready to take over at the position by 2022. Kicking the can another offseason at shortstop might make some sense.
If the Phillies stay internal to find a replacement for Gregorius, that could be as simple as Segura sliding back to shortstop, which would open up second base for Kingery. That said, Segura had -4 defensive runs saved at shortstop in 2019, which is why the Phillies were willing to move him away from that spot to begin with. Chances are, in his age-31 season, Segura won’t improve defensively if shifted back to what he considers his natural position.
Kingery actually saw the bulk of his time – 887 innings – at shortstop in his rookie season. There were some growing pains, but team president Andy MacPhail complimented Kingery’s growth at the position in his year-end press conference. It’s maybe not the most likely outcome, but it doesn’t seem impossible that if the Phillies choose to use their financial resources on adding a mid-rotation starter and rebuilding the bullpen, Kingery winds up at least opening 2021 at shortstop.
Still, Kingery starting in center field Friday could offer a clue into the Phillies thinking moving forward. Roman Quinn is a weapon, but one that’s never played more than 50 games in a season and is hitting .221 in 2020. Girardi seems to view Adam Haseley as an option only against right-handed pitchers. Most talent evaluators believe that middle infielders are capable of playing in the outfield, and Kingery has shown that to be the case to this point in his career. Perhaps he’ll get the bulk of the starts in center field next season, with Quinn and Haseley both as options as well, assuming both are still with the team in 2021.
In whatever role Kingery is used in 2021, it will be seen as a make-or-break season for the former second-round pick. It wouldn’t hurt his confidence if he ended what’s otherwise been a catastrophic 2020 season on a high note.
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