Things can change very quickly in baseball, and Philadelphia Phillies minor-league hitting coordinator Jason Ochart has seen that to be true over the past few days.
Just this past weekend, Ochart was preparing for the organization’s minor-league spring training in Clearwater, Florida, to start up after the cancellation of last year’s season at that level. By Tuesday, he had arrived in Allentown, Pennsylvania, one day ahead of the first workout at the team’s alternate training site for players not in the majors.
There Ochart will be working to help fix Scott Kingery, the struggling former prospect who was demoted to the alternate site on Sunday.
“I’ll definitely miss being at spring training. I was excited to see that,” Ochart told Phillies Nation on Tuesday night, “but I’m also extremely excited to be here and work with Scotty and work with all the guys here.”
He will end up coaching other hitters at the site as well, but Ochart, who also serves as director of hitting at Driveline Baseball, was brought to Lehigh Valley to focus on Kingery.
“[Ochart will] be the main contact person at this time for Scott,” Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said Tuesday afternoon. “… We thought that this was the best way to go with — give him one voice on a consistent basis, hope the connection’s there and hope we get the results we’re looking to have.”
Kingery is someone who also had things change for him very quickly. In the spring training of 2018, the then-23-year-old batted .441 with five home runs and a 1.226 OPS in 22 games. His play earned him comparisons to players like former American League MVP Dustin Pedroia, as well as a six-year, $24 million contract extension to be the team’s likely second baseman of the future before he ever played in a major-league game.
But Kingery’s performance shortly went downhill. In 147 games all around the diamond, mostly at shortstop, he was one of the worst offensive regulars in the big leagues with a .605 OPS. Fueled by a strong month of June, he was better in 2019, but followed it up with a disappointing 2020 season in which his production was hampered by shoulder and back injuries and an early-summer bout with COVID-19. Kingery has posted a career .677 OPS in 309 games over three seasons.
Still, the organization holds hope that Kingery can recapture the offensive ability that made him such a phenom when he burst on the scene in 2018. Ochart will try to assist him in reaching that, with a plan from Phillies major-league hitting coach Joe Dillon to help the right-handed hitter continue making the swing fixes he was trying to put together this spring.
“Just getting in a better position to hit,” Ochart said of their goals for Kingery. “Getting his bat path to a position where he’s able to make more contact and hit more line drives and cut down some of the swing-and-miss.”
Kingery’s bat path had shifted to too much of an uppercut over the years, contributing to a career strikeout rate of nearly 28%.
“A lot of it, too,” Ochart said, ” is timing-based as well. So, we’re just trying to get him to a spot where he can really use his hands and be more dynamic and more adjustable in the batter’s box.”
The changes being made are meant to allow Kingery to return to using his physical talents instead of trying to force power into his game, which should also build confidence in his swing.
“I think the main thing is his athleticism and rhythm. I think he’s such an incredible athlete,” Ochart said. “He’s so coordinated and so gifted that he needs to get into a position to where he can just be an athlete and almost go back to basics and trust his ability.”
Dombrowski said, “We told him we’re not interested in that he has to hit a bunch of home runs. We’re more concerned with line drives.”
It’s not very often that a player with a guaranteed long-term contract gets sent down at the start of a season, but the Phillies are taking a unique approach in hopes of getting the most out of Kingery’s future. Instead of keeping him on the bench in the majors in a utility role, Kingery, who turns 27 on April 29, will get to continue working on adjustments in plenty of plate appearances. He’ll play regularly in scrimmages against the New York Yankee’s alternate site squad and continue getting feedback in workouts from the Phillies’ top minor-league hitting instructor in Ochart.
Of course, it’s no guarantee that Kingery becomes the speedy line-drive hitter who forced his way into a roster spot and a lucrative contract three seasons ago. But the organization — and Kingery himself — seem willing to put in the time and energy to see if it can happen.
“We’ve seen how good he can be when when things are firing correctly, and Scotty’s done an incredible job so far,” Ochart said. “We’re working on things and he’s shown a lot of progress in his work.
“We’re very confident that he’s going to keep keep improving and hopefully get back to the player that we all know he can be.”
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