Rising 2B prospect Scott Kingery climbing ladder, impressing Phillies

Rising 2B prospect Scott Kingery climbing ladder, impressing Phillies

The Phillies’ Double A Reading club was a terrific story in 2016.

The Fightin Phils had the second-best record in all of minor-league baseball, their 89 wins topped only by the New York Yankees’ Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre club, which had 91.

Reading trotted out a lineup that included a number of top prospects that will be making their way to Philadelphia soon. Heck, outfielder Roman Quinn and catcher Jorge Alfaro made cameo appearances in September. Sluggers Dylan Cozens and Rhys Hoskins led Reading’s offense with an astounding combined total of 78 homers and 241 RBIs, and pitcher Ben Lively went 7-0 before earning a promotion to Triple A.

There were more contributors than this, but you get the idea.

In August, as the Fightin Phils’ remarkable season was nearing the finish line, a high-ranking official with the big-league club was talking about all the promising players who had helped play a role in Reading’s season. The official ran through a list of names, adding superlatives liberally, and then issued a notable P.S.

“And, you know, there are many nights when Kingery is the best player on the field,” the man said.

That was a pretty good testament to the player that Scott Kingery has made himself.

Kingery, 22, was the Phillies’ second-round draft pick in 2015, a scrappy second baseman out of the University of Arizona. In less than two full seasons of professional baseball, he has established himself as one of the club’s top prospects and there are a lot of rumblings that he could be the team’s everyday second baseman in a year or two.

Kingery’s development path will include a stop back at Reading to open the 2017 season. He spent just six weeks and 37 games at Double A in 2016 and needs more time there. In those six weeks, he hit just .250 with a .273 on-base percentage. But he exhibited the head, heart, baserunning and defensive ability that have won him comparisons to Boston Red Sox star Dustin Pedroia and led Phillies officials to say things like, “There are many nights when Kingery is the best player on the field.”

Phillies officials believe that Kingery, after having gotten a taste of Double A late in the 2016 season, will be ready to shine with the bat in 2017 and be closer to the player that hit .293 with 29 doubles and a .360 on-base percentage in 94 games at advanced Single A Clearwater before arriving in Reading.

During a recent interview in Arizona, where he spent part of the fall playing for the Scottsdale Scorpions of the Arizona Fall League, Kingery recalled the day in July when he learned he was being promoted to the Phillies’ rampaging Double A team. He replaced Jesmuel Valentin, another promising second baseman who had been moved up to Triple A. The Phillies’ brass thinks so highly of Valentin that it recently added him to the 40-man roster, protecting him from being selected in next month’s Rule 5 draft. With Valentin and Kingery coming, the Phillies have the second-base depth that should inspire improving Cesar Hernandez to continue doing that as he heads into 2017.

“That was the best part,” said Kingery, recalling the day he got the news that he was moving to Double A. “They told me, ‘Hey, we’re only going to send up guys who we think can make that already incredible lineup even better,’ so it was really exciting.

“When I got there and looked at that lineup, it was incredible from top to bottom. That lineup had a lot of guys that are going to be future Phillies, some core guys who are going to be up in the big leagues real soon.”

While Kingery’s climb to the list of top Phillies prospects has been swift, his overall baseball journey has not been completely smooth. He was not recruited by any Division I college teams coming out of high school in Phoenix. He wrote letters to college coaches asking them to take a peek at him. Finally, a member of the coaching staff at Arizona took a look at him and offered him a walk-on spot on the Wildcats’ fall roster as a freshman. Essentially, it was a tryout, and Kingery nailed it.

“It definitely put a chip on my shoulder to go out there and prove what I could do every single day because I needed to find some way to make the coaches notice me and put me on the spring roster,” Kingery said. “I just hustled all the time, laid out for every ball I had a chance of getting, took the extra base when I could, basically just played the game the way I know how to and it ended up working out for me.

“Looking back, I would not have taken any other route because it made me not take anything for granted. I still carry that in my game today. I still feel like I have something to prove every day so I’m not going to get complacent.”

Kingery played shortstop in high school. He played the outfield his first two years at Arizona then move to second base as a junior. He hit .354 with a .456 on-base percentage as a sophomore and .392 with a .423 on-base percentage before being drafted as a junior.

At 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, the right-handed hitting Kingery is not a big guy. He projects as someone who could hit near the top of the batting order, get on base, rack up doubles, pop an occasional homer and steal some bags. He stole 26 bases and was caught just five times while at Clearwater in 2016.

“I like to say that my best tool is my speed,” he said. “I’m always working on that. That’s why it was a great thing to be able to play alongside Roman Quinn. He’s incredibly fast. It was great to be able to see the kind of jumps he gets and the leads he takes and pick up on the things he does to try to help my game. When he gets on base, you never knew what was going to happen. He gets himself into scoring position so quickly.”

The Phillies thought enough of Kingery to assign him to the AFL, and though he hit just .234 with a .294 on-base percentage in 20 games, he found the experience beneficial.

“I’ve definitely learned a lot,” he said.

In the AFL, Kingery shared a clubhouse with some big names. Tim Tebow was a teammate, and Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson was around often, in uniform, working with hitting prospects from the Yankees. In the final week of the season, Tebow had a walk-off hit to give Scottsdale a win.

“It was surreal,” Kingery said. “Tebow hits a walk-off and Reggie Jackson is in the dugout. If I look back in 10 years and thought I’d be in the dugout with Reggie Jackson and Tim Tebow at the same time I would never have believed that.”

Maybe in 10 years, Tebow and Jackson will look back and recall the time they shared a dugout with a young second baseman from the Phillies' organization.

“Hopefully that’s the case,” Scott Kingery said. “That would be a great thing.”

Ruben Amaro Jr. keeps tabs on prospects from the pivotal Hamels trade from afar

Ruben Amaro Jr. keeps tabs on prospects from the pivotal Hamels trade from afar

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Even though he's been gone for 18 months and now wears a Boston Red Sox uniform, Ruben Amaro Jr. still has skin in the Phillies' rebuild.

Amaro was the Phillies' general manager in July 2015 when the team sent Cole Hamels and Jake Diekman to the Texas Rangers for a package that included five prospects, some who have already contributed in the major leagues and others that are knocking on the door.

And though his professional concern these days is coaching first base for Red Sox, Amaro still sneaks an occasional peek at how those prospects are progressing.

"Absolutely," he said before the Phillies and Red Sox played Saturday afternoon (see story). "It's human nature.

"It seems like they're doing OK. I think eventually they will all be contributors in the big leagues. If you get five of those guys to contribute in the big leagues, I think that's a pretty good trade."

The Phillies got three right-handed pitchers, Jerad Eickhoff, Alec Asher and Jake Thompson, in that deal, as well as catcher Jorge Alfaro and outfielder Nick Williams.

Thompson, Alfaro and Williams will be part of a prospect-studded Triple A Lehigh Valley team this season, and all three could be regulars in the majors in a year. Asher is still a candidate to make this year's big-league club in the bullpen.

Eickhoff, of course, is already a stalwart on the club. The 26-year-old right-hander led the starting staff in starts (33), innings (197 1/3) and ERA (3.65) last season. His mark of 1.92 walks per nine innings was fourth-best among National League starting pitchers last season.

Earlier this week, manager Pete Mackanin named Jeremy Hellickson his opening day starter. Hellickson called it "a great honor," then admitted that he thought Eickhoff deserved it more.

Eickhoff has been called a throw-in in the Hamels trade.

In fact, the pitcher himself used that phrase recently.

Amaro set the record straight.

"He wasn't a throw-in," the former GM said.

In terms of upside, Eickhoff might have ranked fourth in the deal behind Alfaro, Williams and Thompson, but he was a guy the Phillies invested many scouting hours in, a guy they wanted.

"He was an important part of it because he was one of the closest to getting to the big leagues as a starter and we needed guys from the upper levels because we didn't have a lot of them in starting pitching," Amaro said.

Amaro and Rangers GM Jon Daniels worked on the Hamels deal for months before pulling the trigger at July 2015 trade deadline.

Eickhoff had popped on the Phillies' radar when scout Charley Kerfeld watched him throw on a back field at the Rangers' minor-league complex. Scouts Dewey Colbert and Bart Braun also saw him.

"All of our guys saw him," Amaro said. "Charley saw him a lot. Dewey and Bart saw him. We had multiple looks on him and everybody else in that deal. We had quality recommendations.

"He wasn't one of (Texas') top 10 guys. But that's what good scouting is all about.

"After we made the trade, I talked to Jon Daniels about it and he said Eickhoff was the guy he was most pissed off about moving because he loved his character and the way he went about his business. He told me, 'I wish you would have substituted somebody else for Eickhoff.'"

Eickhoff actually came to the majors when Amaro was still the Phillies' GM. Amaro was let go between the time Eickhoff made his fourth and fifth starts.

Amaro peeked at the box scores after Eickhoff's starts last season.

Was he surprised by Eickhoff's performance?

"With the amount of innings he had, absolutely," he said. "But that's a great credit to him.

"Eickhoff has something that's different from other guys. He's got that thing that you need as a major league pitcher to be successful. He's got that internal drive and he's got (guts). That's big. You can't measure that with a protractor.

"Other things can be measured with a protractor. That one can't.

"From my brief time with him and from talking to other people, I know he wants to be good. You can tell he's got something in there."

With all of this going for him, why was Eickhoff rated fourth in the deal?

"Ceiling," Amaro said. "When you talk about ceiling, overall stuff, Thompson was one of those guys who had a higher ceiling. But ceilings, obviously, can change when a guy gets to the big leagues.

"We had a lot of internal debates about how guys lined up in this trade."

In the months leading up to the deal, the Phillies sought Alfaro and power-hitting outfielder Nomar Mazara, who hit 20 homers as a 21-year-old rookie for the Rangers last season.

"Mazara was about as untouchable as you can get," Amaro said. "Real high-ceiling guy who we liked the most probably along with Alfaro.

"We talked for a long time. It got to the point where we would not do the deal without Alfaro. We had to get 'a guy' and everyday catcher is such a crucial position. As far as the position guys, he was the most crucial."

The Phillies wanted an outfield bat in the deal, as well. With Mazara not in play, they focused on Williams and Lewis Brinson, a prospect who the Rangers sent to Milwaukee in last summer's deal for catcher Jonathan Lucroy.

"There was a lot of discussion about Williams and Brinson," Amaro said. "We liked them both. We thought that Williams was closer at the time and we really wanted guys that were close and we liked the way (Williams) swung the bat."

The final verdict on Amaro's watershed trade with the Rangers is still years away. Hamels has helped Texas get to the postseason the last two seasons and helps fuel that club's big dreams this season.

The Phillies' haul in the deal is still percolating and the team hopes it one day comes together as a fine brew.

And if it does, Ruben Amaro Jr. can feel some satisfaction. He's no longer a Phillie, but he has some skin in the team's rebuild.

Phillies 3, Red Sox 3: Bullpen auditions continue with personnel meeting looming

Phillies 3, Red Sox 3: Bullpen auditions continue with personnel meeting looming

BOX SCORE

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Phillies officials have a big personnel powwow on Sunday and one of the matters that will be discussed is who gets the final two bullpen jobs.

With evaluation time dwindling, the Phils used Saturday's game against the Boston Red Sox as an opportunity to look at Alec Asher, Adam Morgan and Joely Rodriguez, all candidates to win a job in the bullpen.

"They all got a lot of work," manager Pete Mackanin said after the Phillies played to a 3-3 tie with the Red Sox.

The right-hander Asher worked three innings and gave up three hits and two runs.

The lefty Morgan worked three innings and allowed a solo homer.

The lefty Rodriguez worked two innings, gave up a hit and struck out three.

"To hold the Red Sox to three runs is pretty nice, especially in this ballpark," Mackanin said. "They had their guys in there and we held them down."

Morgan has allowed just one run over six innings his last two outings.

"He has changed speeds well last two times out," Mackanin said. "That's how he needs to pitch."

The Phillies have five spots set in their bullpen with Jeanmar Gomez, Hector Neris, Joaquin Benoit, Pat Neshek and Edubray Ramos. They are all right-handers. The final two spots will likely come down to Morgan, Asher, Rodriguez and Luis Garcia, who are all on the 40-man roster. That is an important consideration because the Phils would like to keep their 40-man roster subtractions to a minimum. There is an outside chance they could go with an eight-man bullpen, though that might be tough in the National League, where a full bench comes in handy. That will be discussed Sunday.

The makeup of the bench will also be discussed Sunday. Andrew Knapp's place on the 40-man roster will help his chance of being the backup catcher. Veteran catchers Ryan Hanigan and Bryan Holaday both can opt of their contracts in the next few days if they are not going to make the club. Utility man Chris Coghlan also has an opt-out coming. Daniel Nava and Brock Stassi are also candidates for what looks like two remaining spots on the bench. Nava does not have an opt-out until June. Stassi is under control and would have to accept an assignment to the minors if he does not make the club.

Infielder Jesmuel Valentin is also still in camp. He is on the 40-man roster. The question is whether the team wants to carry the 22-year-old as an extra man or get him regular reps at second base in Triple A. Valentin is 11 for 31 (.355) this spring. He hit his fifth double on Saturday.

"He swings the bat really well from the right side," Mackanin said. "He's got some work to do from the left side. He's got good actions and instincts. In a short period of time, he's made a good impression on me and I think he can be a major-league player."

The game
The Phillies had 12 hits but scored just three runs. They have scored just 10 runs over the last four games.

"We just can't accumulate a lot of runs," Mackanin said.

The Phils were last in the majors with 610 runs last season.

The Phillies tied the game in the top of the ninth on a sacrifice fly by Coghlan.

Mackanin tried to suicide-squeeze home the go-ahead run, but Roman Quinn popped up the bunt.

Colton Murray preserved the tie with a clean bottom of the ninth.

Former Phillie Kyle Kendrick pitched six innings of two-run ball for Boston. He walked none and struck out six. Kendrick projects to open the season at Triple A, but is No. 6 on the Red Sox's starting pitching depth chart and is likely to see big-league at some point this season.

Up next
The Phillies host the Pirates on Sunday. Clay Buchholz will make the start against right-hander Josh Lindblom, who spent time with the Phillies after coming over from the Dodgers in the Shane Victorino trade in 2012.