Scott Kingery wasn’t supposed to be a Triple-A player at this point in his career. In fact, the Philadelphia Phillies signed him to a six-year deal during spring training of 2018 before he’d ever played a game in the majors because they believed he wasn’t a Triple-A player then either.
But things change in baseball, and, over the course of three-plus seasons, things did just that. With on-field struggles and no regular playing time anywhere to be found for the Phillies, Kingery is back in the minors with Lehigh Valley, trying to work on his game in a lower-pressure environment.
That may not be how the Phillies or Kingery originally drew it all up, but the 27-year-old understands the opportunity to play regularly can help his game return to form.
“Personally for me, getting at-bats is the big thing,” Kingery said Friday via Zoom from Coca-Cola Park. “Just get consistent playing time and just finding a feel for my swing and just getting those regular innings is big. And just come down here and just play baseball.”
The playing time just wasn’t there in the majors for Kingery. He opened the season at the alternate training site in Lehigh Valley to work with minor-league hitting coordinator Jason Ochart on his swing. He was called up on April 21, and sent back down in time for Triple-A opening day on May 4. Kingery hit a walk-off triple for the IronPigs, and was called up once again the next day.
Kingery was with the Phillies until May 17, when he was placed on the injured list after suffering a concussion playing right field. He made only 19 plate appearances in his time in the majors, recording one hit and striking out 12 times. It was tough to deal with the struggles while not getting many chances to make up for them.
“I think I got in trouble [from] being in my head too much and worrying about results too much and just taking every at-bat to heart.” he said.
When Kingery recovered from his head injury, he began a rehab assignment with Lehigh Valley. Once that was completed, the team made the decision to designate him for assignment on June 7 and remove him from the 40-man roster so he could stay in the minors full-time.
“I wasn’t surprised when it happened. I could kind of see where it was going,” Kingery said. “And the whole time it was just in my head, I’m like, ‘If I go down there it’s not the end of the world. If I get DFA’d, I know that they can’t call me back up. I’m not on the 40-man. So, regardless of what happens, I’ll be able to stay here and get some consistent at-bats and playing time.
“In my head, I’m like, ‘That’s exactly what I need.”
Kingery has been able to keep a positive mindset throughout all this, despite the disappointing results and being demoted to the minor leagues.
“There’s really not much good that comes from just being down on yourself. Obviously, I’m not happy every day, and some days are worse than others,” he said “But for the most part, I get to play baseball for a living. So, for me, showing up to the field is, way better than what the alternative would be for me.”
That line of thinking is a good one for someone in Kingery’s position. Throughout his young career, he’s had to deal with pressure. The “unprecedented” six-year, $24 million contract he signed in 2018 has always brought lofty expectations that loom in the background.
“A lot of people would think that it would have the opposite effect where you can relax and just play baseball,” he noted. “But I’m the kind of guy that wants to prove that the contract was the right call. That’s something that is always in the back of your mind. You try not to think about it, but … that’s always in the back of your head.”
Kingery also had to adjust to playing a plethora of defensive positions, which he said was especially difficult as a rookie.
In Triple-A, he’s mostly been able to focus on playing second base most games. Offensively, he can expect his name in the lineup every day, and has continued working on hitting more line drives with IronPigs hitting coach Garey Ingram.
Ingram watched video with Kingery that showed his swing path coming through the zone at too much of an uppercut, going underneath pitches and producing too many fly balls. The two began drills to get Kingery spraying more line drives across the field.
“I sat down with him when the move was made [to designate Kingery for assignment],” Ingram said Tuesday. “I just discussed with him which direction we’re going to go, and this is what we’re going to do with you, and this is what the Phillies want for you. We’re going to try to get you back to the type of player that the Phillies saw you a few years ago.”
Kingery is hitting just .188/.310/.304 in 22 games this minor-league season with four doubles and two triples. However, Ingram said he believes their work is already starting to help Kingery. The player also expressed his pleasure with his recent at-bats.
“I think there’s some minor things I was able to fix based on seeing how the ball was flying off my bat during an at-bat, or pitches I was swinging at and whether I was out in front or waiting back too long and stuff like that,” Kingery said. “So, I think it’s really close.”
While Kingery feels that he could be turning a corner soon, his future on the team is still uncertain. He would prefer to play one position on an every-day basis as he’s doing in the minors, which could complicate the situation.
“I don’t care where I’m playing as long as I can get some consistent playing time,” Kingery said. “And if that’s in left field, if that’s in center field, if it’s at second, short, third — wherever I’m at — it’s just nice to get in a rhythm at one position. I don’t mind bouncing all over, but, for me personally, I think if I just was able to work at one position consistently, I could get really good at that position.”
As it stands now, he’s roadblocked at second base by the currently injured Jean Segura, shortstop by the injured Didi Gregorius, third base by Alec Bohm, left field by Andrew McCutchen and center field by Odúbel Herrera. The only real path to playing time at the moment would likely need to come in that super utility role in which he’s struggled before.
Perhaps that landscape changes for Kingery this offseason, but he needs to make vast improvements for that to be a possibility. He’s going to continue pushing and remain positive that he can, in his own words, “get back to myself.”
“I still believe that I’m a starter at the major-league level,” he said. “Obviously, I think there’s some things that need to get sorted out before that happens.”
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