Here is the thesis: the Phillies have a Scott Kingery problem.
Let’s get this much out of the way right now — the problem is not that Kingery is a bad baseball player and will be a bad baseball player always and forever. We don’t have to work in a realm of absolutes and hot takes here. The problem is that he is currently a lost baseball player.
Rehashing minor league statistics and spring training performances from multiple years ago is about as meaningful an exercise as talking about Carson Wentz’s 2017 season, but the thinking leads back to the same question:
Somewhere, there’s still gotta be a good player in there, right?
You may recall Kingery’s 2017 season in which he totaled a staggering 63 extra-base hits between Reading and Lehigh Valley to go with an .889 OPS and plus defense. You may also recall the 29 stolen bases and the then-warranted “Scotty Jetpax” nickname.
First, the defense:
— John Clark (@JClarkNBCS) June 27, 2017
Next, the middle infielder pop:
— John Clark (@JClarkNBCS) June 28, 2017
I mean, you had f’n John Clark out there clipping Iron Pigs highlights to Twitter back in 2017 because Kingery was a stud. No offense to John, but he’s not exactly the go-to source for all things minor league baseball.
Kingery then created even more buzz in 2018 with an insane spring training performance in which he went 23-for-56 with 10 extra-base hits and a 1.226 OPS.
Fast-forward past three mostly forgettable seasons and an utterly horrendous spring training this month (.139 BA with a .455 OPS) and it’s probably fair to wonder if the same player everybody saw a few years back is ever going to show up in Philadelphia.
At the very least, if that player does exist, it’s very hard to see right now.
— Bob Wankel (@BobWankelCB) March 14, 2021
Kingery began the spring with hopes of winning the Phillies’ center field competition. After consistently struggling to put the ball in play (15 strikeouts in 39 plate appearances), he’s finishing the spring by simply trying to hold onto a roster spot.
But is that what’s best for the Phiilies? Is that what’s best for Kingery?
The Phillies’ 40-man roster complexities have been frequently discussed this month as the team considers what to do with players not on the 40-man like Odubel Herrera, Matt Joyce, Tony Watson and Brandon Kintzler. For every one of these players who makes the Opening Day roster, the Phillies risk parting ways with one of players currently occupying a spot.
Given the organization’s overall lack of minor league depth, potentially losing a prospect of any significance isn’t exactly a palatable proposition. But the Phillies want to win now, and rolling the dice may be necessary as the team tries to cut the talent gap with division opponents like the Braves and Mets.
Overlooked in the 40-man mess, however, are the implications for a player like Kingery.
Since the team will already likely make anywhere between two to four 40-man moves, it becomes even more difficult to make another unexpected addition — someone such as Ronald Torreyes, a player the organization likes and can fill a utility role despite his lack of offensive punch.
The crunch (and the uncertainty around Brad Miller’s availability) matters in this case because it likely forces Kingery onto the Phillies roster next week — even if he shouldn’t be on it.
Since Kingery arrived in Philadelphia, it feels like he has been trying to learn on the fly and play from behind. Whether it was bouncing around a handful of positions or trying to transform his offensive game to profile as a power hitter, he has been in a perpetual state of flux.
And I don’t really view that as an excuse. He hasn’t performed to this point, and that’s on him. But what we do know is that things haven’t worked out to this point and there’s no reason to suddenly believe the switch will flip if the Phillies continue to force the issue.
Maybe it’s time to slow things down for him. Maybe the thing not to do here is try to rework his swing mechanics and rebuild his confidence at the major league level in spot action, particularly during a stretch of early-April games that includes 13 high-stakes matchups right out of the gate against the Braves and Mets.
The downside to bringing Kingery north on the Opening Day roster is pretty obvious. Not only do the Phillies get a lack of production from a struggling player, but the struggling player likely continues to lose control of his already shaken confidence as he tries to perform under pressure.
If the Phillies hope to get the most out of Kingery, a player who, if I’m right, still has something to offer a winning team, the best way to do it is to give the guy a breather.
In a perfect world, they would send him to the alternate site and provide him with an opportunity breakdown his swing, build back his swing, and recalibrate his mindset.
But, you know, that damn 40-man, man.