Phillies Prospect Scott Kingery Powering Way Toward Majors

READING, Pa. - Phillies prospect Scott Kingery is a power hitter now, if only temporarily, the latest twist in the young second baseman's tale. 

Such reinvention probably shouldn't come as a surprise anymore, seeing as the one constant in his career has been change. Isn't he the guy who went from Arizona walk-on to Pac-12 batting champion? The guy who began college as a middle infielder, switched to center field, then returned to the infield?

Why, yes. Yes, he was.

So he wants to be a power hitter now? Sure, why not?

Never mind that he stands 5-10 and weighs 180 pounds; he has blasted six homers in 21 games this season at Double-A Reading, to tie for the Eastern League lead. It likely won't last - he's more of a line-drive guy - but it just shows that Kingery can seemingly be anything he wants to be.

Perhaps, even, the parent club's starting second baseman.

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That's the complicated part, given the team's middle-infield logjam. Cesar Hernandez, the Phillies' current regular at second, has become one of their better hitters. And slick-fielding Jesmuel Valentin, playing at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, is ahead of Kingery in the pecking order as well.

Certainly, though, Kingery has served notice that he is every bit the player he appeared to be when the Phils took him in the second round of the 2015 draft. He spent that year at Single-A Lakewood, then began last year at high-A Clearwater before a late-season call-up to Reading, in conjunction with Valentin's jump from Double-A to Triple-A.

At one point after Kingery's arrival in Reading last year, a Phillies official told CSNPhilly's Jim Salisbury that there were nights when he was "the best player on the field." And recall that last year the Fightins were stocked with prospects like J.P. Crawford, Rhys Hoskins, Dylan Cozens, all of whom are now at Triple-A.

This year it's been more of the same for Kingery. He is slashing .284/.378/.605. He has stolen five bases in as many attempts. And he makes all the plays in the field.

"He's as quick as anybody turning the double play, on the pivot," manager Greg Legg said. "Fast hands, excellent range, comes to play every day. Doesn't miss too many. He's been real sure-handed. Confident player. Excellent on cutoffs and relays. He's got kind of a knack for being in the right spot. He looks like he's got a chance to be a real good one for us."

That comes as no surprise to Legg, a former middle infielder who also managed Kingery in Clearwater.

"I'm spoiled," Legg said. "I've seen nothing but good."

The power surge was, however, unexpected. Kingery, who turned 23 last Saturday, homered eight times in his first 197 professional games. But he spent the offseason tinkering with his swing and working in the weight room, and is now reaping the benefits.

"Last year I was getting forward, messing with my eye level a little bit," he said after Tuesday's 7-2 victory over New Hampshire. "It was more the line-drive swing. I was hitting a lot of groundballs, just chopping them into the ground. This year, staying on the back side, I can get a lot more line drives and get some carry on the ball."

Though he admitted he had been getting a little too big with his swing in Reading's cozy FirstEnergy Stadium. 

"I had to go back to that line-drive approach," he said.

Tuesday's 3-for-5 night was more typical. He led off the bottom of the first with a single, stole second, went to third on a flyball and scored on Carlos Tocci's single. He opened the third with another single, this one ahead of Andrew Pullin's homer, then smacked a two-out RBI triple in the sixth.

"Hitting 15 or so homers, that's a bonus," Legg said of Kingery. 

Better that he remains who he really is - a polished fielder and a guy, the manager said, who is "a tough out and a thorn in everybody's side - one of those guys that everybody wants on their team and doesn't want to play against."

Kingery, who in 2016 hit .293 in 94 games at Clearwater and .250 in 37 games with Reading, also homered twice during his 6-for-21 exhibition stint with the big club this spring, a stay that was valuable in many other ways.

For one thing, he said, it gave him a jolt of confidence. For another, he came to understand how big leaguers operate, what the day-to-day grind is like.

There was also this.

"The food was delicious up there," he said with a laugh. "But no, everyone was really helpful, really nice. If they saw something, they were going to point it out and try to help you. It was incredible."

He wants a bigger taste eventually, but has no problem being patient.

"I don't like to look too far ahead," he said. "Obviously, there's some great second basemen ahead of me right now. I can't look up there, see what they're doing and try to do better. I have to focus on what I can do here and at the level I'm at."

He is a Phoenix native, and unrelated to former major league outfielder Mike Kingery. ("I get that question all the time," Scott said.) His only scholarship offer coming out of high school was from Central Arizona College, a JUCO midway between his hometown and Tucson. He did, however, have an academic scholarship that granted him free tuition to any school in the state, and Arizona had a preferred walk-on spot for him, so off he went to cast his lot with the Wildcats.

"The first day I showed up I kind of told myself, ‘Hey, I can hang with these guys,'" he said.

He had been a shortstop in high school, but the 'Cats were set in the middle infield. One of the coaches, as a result, asked him if he had ever played the outfield. Kingery said he had, which wasn't completely true; his experience out there amounted to a game or two in high school.

"So they threw me out there (in center)," he said, "and the first inning I'm out there, there's bases loaded and someone drills one in the gap. I run it down, lay out and make a diving catch to save all the runs."

Just like that, he was an centerfielder. He spent his first two years at that position, his last one at second, playing alongside star shortstop Kevin Newman. Kingery batted a Pac-12 leading .392 that season and was taken 48th overall, 31 picks after the Pirates selected Newman.

Now there are those scouts who believe Kingery might be a better prospect than his former double-play partner.

It's just another twist in his tale, another bit of reinvention. Nothing new there.

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