Yesterday’s news of a promotion to the big leagues in tandem with the signing of a six-year contract extension for Scott Kingery was a tad unexpected. Many of us here, as well as those in the know, had pegged Kingery as someone who would be sent to Triple-A Lehigh Valley to
jigger with his service time hone his craft before ultimately ascending to the majors for good. Now that everything is official, we can begin to discuss where exactly Kingery will be playing in 2018. The best answer?
For now, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
Honestly, this was the biggest concern with bringing Kingery up to start the season in that basically every position spoken for. There isn’t really a place to give him any real consistent playing time, something many prognosticators believe he still needs. Of course now, it’s Gabe Kapler’s job, and they seem to already be well prepared for it:
“There’s no question that there’s a ripple effect to whatever decisions we make,” Kapler said. “We’re well aware of it. One of the things that we pride ourselves on is communicating effectively, communicating preemptively, so nothing comes as a surprise. If somebody is not in the opening day lineup, whether it would be Scott or somebody else, the message is, ‘You’re probably in the lineup the next two, three, four days.’ There’s a reason for everything we do and we’ll explain it them so nothing catches our guys by surprise.”
Yeah, that still doesn’t answer our question as to where he’ll play. So, let’s do this the easy way and go around the infield.
It’s probably safe to assume that Kingery will not be donning the tools of ignorance with any kind of regularity. So, that eliminates one position. Last time he was on the mound, Kingery was probably trying to earn his team a trip to Williamsport to swap pins and ride cardboard boxes down a hill. With pitching out, that’s two down. First base? Meh. They’ve already got a guy who can push a car up a hill there now, so imagine a little 5’10” rookie trying to take his spot in the lineup. Plus, there’s the fact that Rhys Hoskins can pick it at first as well and is probably already the Rob Thomas of the first base duo (see what I did there?). So, we can go ahead and drop the idea of Kingery getting reps at first base either. That leaves six other positions that Kingery can play.
And quite honestly, that’s it. That is probably the plan. Kingery will be playing all six positions at some point this year. Last year, he played 113 games at second base, four games at third base and two at shortstop during his time in the minors. The plan was already being laid for him to be a more versatile option heading in to spring training this season. While in Clearwater, Kingery has played virtually the entire field save those three positions just mentioned. He has clearly been put into spots in order to determine how effective he can actually be and to acclimate him to this plan as quickly as possible. Sure, he’s best suited to being a second baseman long-term, but for now, his ability to play just about anywhere has let him prepare to head to Atlanta with the big club.
What’s a really interesting aspect of this move is who it is being done by. Kapler has preached all winter and spring that the team is looking for players to be as versatile as they can be. This versatility will be key because Kapler will be big on getting his guys rest:
“It starts with getting guys blows to keep them healthy and strong,” he said. “We’ll do that with guys all over the diamond. Scott will get reps at positions all over the place. At the end of the day, these guys are all going to look up and be like, ‘Holy smokes. I played every day, somehow someway.’”
Kapler was hired away from the Dodgers, a team that was/is renowned for keeping its 25 man roster full to the brim with talent. In 2017, when Adrian Gonzalez went down with a back injury, Cody Bellinger came up and proceeded to lay waste to the National League. As Gonzalez neared return, there wasn’t much talk of sending Bellinger back down, mostly because his bat wouldn’t let him. The team figured, hey, let’s keep him here and let the manager (Dave Roberts) sort it out. Eventually, either through ineffectiveness or injury, everything was sorted out and players were all able to be rested and healthy as they prepared for the grind of a playoff race and eventual run to a World Series appearance. That is what is probably being hoped for with Kingery in Philadelphia.
But it’s critical to note here: the Dodgers were prepared to handle a major injury because the drop off in talent was not steep at all. Getting as much of that talent to the big leagues, regardless of service time, is what all the cool kids are doing these days:
well, that's kinda my point. the elite teams are doubling up on guys that aren't a dropoff like Valentin and just figuring out the PT via injury or otherwise— Craig Goldstein (@cdgoldstein) March 25, 2018
Does it help that the two teams we’re comparing are the Dodgers and Phillies, deep pocketed teams that don’t really have to worry too much about service time? Of course, but also note: Kingery signs that extension just before he makes the big league team. That’s a major aspect of this entire issue. Service time won’t matter because he’s already locked in. Now they can use him to make the team better now than have to wait those extra few days in April. If he helps them win games, those wins could be the difference between a playoff spot and going home after the calendar turns to October.
Roster depth will be key to the Phillies doing anything of note in 2018. It’s also fair to assume that general manager Matt Klentak and Kapler were probably looking at this lineup at some point and arrived at the same conclusion: if they are truly serious about playoff contention, it wasn’t deep enough. Last year, the Dodgers, Kapler’s former employers, had the most players in the National League that had at least 250 plate appearances with at least a 90 OPS+ with ten of them. Want to take a guess as to which team had to the fewest? That’s right, the Phillies with only four. Having that effective depth was critical to Los Angeles weathering different injuries throughout the course of a 162 game schedule. The difference between someone with the talent of Kingery and a non-roster invitee is enormous, perhaps a 2-3 win difference.
It also more or less solidifies the idea that a 13 man pitching staff is on the horizon. With that many pitchers coming in to and out of games, players moving positions frequently in the middle of a game to help with double switches and the like will necessitate that player being comfortable going anywhere in the field. It will also make Kapler feel more comfortable because he is bringing a player, whoever that might be, whose talent level is near equivalent to the one he is replacing. The best iteration of a starting nine will be ever present on the field. It’s a wonderful solution to a problem that might be popping up.
So, to answer the question, where will Kingery play? The answer is simple.
To make it a little bit more complex: do we really care? Wins in April and May are just as important as wins in August and September. Would we rather see Scott Kingery trotting out to left field or second base as part of a double switch with his spot due up in the order the next inning or Jesmuel Valentin? I know what my answer is.