PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. – Horrible recruiting stories are commonplace for prep players. Tales of recruits who have scholarships snatched away at the last minute or were promised one thing only to be lied to are as routine in baseball as strikes, balls and outs.
Phillies prospect Scott Kingery only wishes he had just one of those stories to tell.
“There really were (no bad stories) because there wasn’t any recruiting at all. I had to send letters to schools and coaches telling them about the tournaments I was going to play in,” said Kingery earlier this week as he and his Clearwater Threshers teammates prepared to face the St. Lucie Mets in a four-game series at Tradition Field on Florida’s east coast.
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“I told them to come check me out and watch, but I really didn’t hear much back.”
At 5-foot-7, he knew he was small, but his Mountain Pointe High School team won the state title his junior year. He was strong at the plate both years, batting just shy of .500, so surely collegiate coaches knew of the energetic Kingery, a tenacious player who generated offense and created problems on the basepaths.
Still, no interest.
“I knew in high school I was a smaller kid and I was going to have to work harder and hustle and just grind every day out," the second baseman said. "People would look at my body-type and say, ‘He’s not going to go anywhere or be able to hit for power or do any of this stuff.’”
However, that didn’t deter him.
Not only did Kingery take the challenge to go Division I to the University of Arizona as a preferred walk-on in the fall of 2013, but he also quickly earned a spot for the spring with his outstanding play. Two years later, he was the Pac-12’s Player of the Year, leading the conference with a .392 batting average, 53 runs, 93 hits and 133 total bases.
“I wanted to take a chance," the 22-year-old Phoenix native said. "I told myself that if I was going to be anything or do anything in baseball, I’d like to take a shot at it now and go (Division I), even if it was as a walk-on."
His accomplishments during his Pac-12 career with the Wildcats prompted the Phillies to select the now 5-foot-10 Kingery in the second round (48th overall) of the 2015 draft.
Not bad for a player who was too short and that no coaches would come see.
“That’s put a chip on my shoulder my whole career to prove that I could do those things every day,” said Kingery, now viewed as an advanced prospect on the fast track through the Phillies' farm system, which has improved dramatically in depth thanks to Kingery and teammates like outfielder Carlos Tocci and pitcher Tom Eshelman.
Clearwater manager Greg Legg likes the spunky Kingery and bats him in the leadoff spot of a talented Threshers club that has been in first place in the Florida State League’s North Division from the start. The team is 26-15 after Friday's 4-1 loss to Palm Beach.
“He brings a lot of energy. He’s real solid defensively, good at turning the double plays and doesn’t really miss much,” Legg said. “He’s got good range and speed on the bases. He’s been a nice igniter of our offense as far as getting on base and scoring runs.
“He’s got a spark plug-type attitude and he’s a tough kid, so we’ve got a good player right there.”
Legg, who played in 1986 and 1987 with the Phillies, said Kingery’s ability to swipe bases is a promising asset. In his brief pro career, the second baseman has stolen 21 bases in 24 attempts. This season, he's swiped 10 of 12 attempts in 37 games.
“We’re trying to get him to go more right now and not trying to be so perfect with it," Legg said. "We’re trying to have him run more. I didn’t get to play against Craig Biggio, but I imagine that’s what he was like in the minor leagues, just like this kid.
“I believe in college they fell in love with him when they saw him play and the things he brings to the table. It doesn’t surprise me.
“Adversity or when someone says you can’t do something … you have to work a little harder for it and you appreciate it a little more. Obviously, that’s happened to him before he got here.”
Kingery hit .250 last year in 66 games at Low A Lakewood. In his first full pro season in the FSL, he is batting .252 with better on-base and slugging percentages than last year.
“High A is much different that the South Atlantic League. We’re staying entirely in Florida, and it’s been awesome here," said Kingery, the Phillies’ No. 10 prospect according to MLB.com. "You see how much better each level gets, and I can completely tell the difference.
“My goal this year is to get to 40 stolen bases. I’ve been picking right pitches to run on and getting good jumps. Honestly, I think can do more, but I’m working on it right now.”
Just don’t tell him he can’t do it.