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Phillies Nuggets: Joe Girardi still sees All-Star potential in Scott Kingery


Scott Kingery was optioned Sunday. (Cheryl Pursell)

We don’t yet know if Scott Kingery will be with the Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs when they begin their season on May 4, but we do know that the 26-year-old will not be with the Philadelphia Phillies when they host the Atlanta Braves Thursday to begin the season. 

Kingery was optioned to minor-league camp Sunday. It wasn’t a shocking development considering he hit .159 in 113 at-bats last season and had struggled this spring. Still, when the Phillies announced the move, it was pretty jarring when you consider that Kingery will make $4 million in 2021, the fourth season of a six-year/$24 million deal that also includes three club options. 

The Phillies aren’t giving up on Kingery, and not just because his contract makes that almost impossible to do right now. Though he’s been underwhelming more times than not in his first three MLB seasons, he was excellent in the first half of 2019. He also possesses tremendous speed and ability to play nearly every position on the diamond. So the option of the super-utility player Sunday morning wasn’t a goodbye, it was “a see you later.” Heck, it was maybe even a “see you in a few weeks.” 

“Scott has been working hard to make some swing adjustments. He’s played strictly center field while he was here, and he’s made some progress, but we think there’s more progress to be made and he’s worked really hard,” Joe Girardi said after Sunday’s Grapefruit League game against the New York Yankees. “I really have – and we really have – a lot of belief in Scott Kingery. We’re just trying to get him back to where he’s a line-drive, doubles hitter that runs into some home runs and uses the whole field. And he’s worked really hard at it the last couple weeks and will continue to work at it. And I still believe that he’s going to have a big impact for us.” 

While the Phillies open the season with a crucial stretch of divisional games, Kingery will be at Coca-Cola Park in Allentown, the satellite squad. There will be intrasquad scrimmages, as there were last year. The biggest thing, Girardi says, is for Kingery to create positive habits with his swing before he returns to the major league level. You don’t have to read too much between the lines to come to the conclusion that internally there’s a belief that Kingery may have been coached to upper cut too much for his own good early in his major league career. 

There probably also needs to be a reckoning with Kingery chasing pitches out of the zone. Kingery struck out in 28.2% of his at-bats in 2020, at least partially due to the fact that he has swung at 36.4% of pitches outside of the strike zone during his career per Baseball Info Solutions. 30.6% was the league average in that category a season ago. J.T. Realmuto has a 32.5% rate of chasing pitches out of the zone in his career, while Bryce Harper (30.3%), Rhys Hoskins (23.9%) and Andrew McCutchen (23.4%) are all even lower. 

There are some hitters – Didi Gregorius, for example – that can get away with swinging at pitches out of the zone because they are able to make contact on a relatively consistent basis. Kingery, on other hand, has made contact less than 60% of the time when swinging at pitches out of the strike zone at the major league level. 

Again, though, the Phillies seem pretty confident that Kingery will be able to work through this and emerge as a valuable contributor once again. 

“It might just be trying to do too much, and really understanding who you are,” Girardi said of what’s led to struggles at the plate for Kingery. “When he puts the ball in play and he’s hitting the ball in the gaps, he’s a dynamic player. I look at how he took to center field – and I know he’s played there some – but his routes are excellent and he covers a ton of ground. I look at how he turns a double play at second base and I’m extremely impressed. There’s a lot of tools here. And I believe he’s an All-Star – if he gets back to the way that he was hitting before, I believe that he can be an All-Star.” 

The Phillies probably prefer Kingery play just one position at a time, though that doesn’t necessarily mean second base. It could be there, it could be center field, it could be left field, it could be shortstop. Kingery’s defensive flexibility is a tremendous weapon. But for it to be truly utilized on a consistent basis, the former second-round pick will have to rediscover what once made him an offensive prospect that some compared to Dustin Pedroia.

The Nuggets

  • Kingery’s demotion opened up a roster spot for Ronald Torreyes, an old Joe Girardi favorite. Torreyes has been told that he’s made the team as the backup infielder, with Girardi even saying he wouldn’t be afraid to play the 28-year-old in the outfield if he had to.
  • It was relatively surprising to see JoJo Romero optioned Sunday. Girardi called it “a tough decision,” but says that the Phillies want Romero to “be more economical and get ahead [in counts] more.” Girardi raved about the 24-year-old repertoire, saying that he believes Romero “has three swing-and-miss pitches” and has the potential to be an “elite” reliever. In the meantime, though, José Alvarado will be the lone left-hander in the bullpen to begin the season.
  • You’re guess is as good as mine in terms of how the Phillies will proceed in center field to begin the season. With the demotion of Kingery, one would think Roman Quinn has to make it, because the switch-hitter is their only right-handed option at the position currently. That would leave Adam Haseley and Odúbel Herrera competing for the final spot on the roster. Haseley does have three remaining minor league options, though unlike Herrera, he’s already on the 40-man roster.

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