When Phillies rookie Scott Kingery first set foot on a big league field last month, he was already a major league record holder: the six-year, $24 million contract he signed late in spring training was the largest guaranteed deal ever for a player with no major league service time. A few weeks into his career, Kingery has given strong hints that the Phillies made a wise decision to lock him up: he’s flashed extra-base power (seven doubles and two home runs in his first 73 plate appearances), speed (three steals in as many attempts), and a flair for the dramatic, slugging his first career home run, hitting a grand slam, and driving in the game winning run on consecutive nights in a mid-April sweep of the Reds.
But perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Kingery’s first few weeks in the majors is how manager Gabe Kapler has deployed him. Through three minor league seasons, Kingery played 303 games at second base, four at third base, and two at shortstop—and those last six games only came toward the end of his 2017 season at triple-A Allentown. Through the first 20 games of this season with the Phillies, Kingery has been deployed as follows:
Starts by Position
This wasn’t the way it was supposed to go for Kingery. But with the Phillies unwilling or unable to trade incumbent second baseman Cesar Hernandez—who, to be fair, probably has been the team’s best hitter not named Rhys Hoskins thus far—Kapler chose to get creative. And he’s put Kingery on pace to play more games at more positions than any rookie in baseball history.
Usually when a ballplayer comes to prominence as a super-utilityman, it doesn’t happen at the start of his career. Ben Zobrist, probably the most celebrated Swiss Army knife of recent years, was exclusively a shortstop through his first two big-league campaigns; not until his third year, in 2008, did he start showing up all over the diamond. Tony Phillips, the great play-everywhere guy of a generation ago, got there in his second campaign, making 77 starts at short and 49 more at second. But as a rookie, he only appeared at short.
As the table above shows, through 20 games, Kingery was on pace to make 40 starts at third base, 32 at shortstop, 24 in left field, 16 at second, and 8 in right. He could become just the second rookie ever to play at least ten games at those five positions. The first? Rockies utility man Luis Gonzalez in 2004, who squeezed 40 appearances at second, 20 in left, 18 at third, 11 in right and 10 at short into his rookie campaign.
Just looking at Kingery’s three infield positions, the rookie versatility list is a little longer: 22 first-year men have played at least 20 games each at second, third, and short. (The most recent to do so: former Phillies legend and soap-opera character name Taylor Featherston, in 2015.) Push the number to 25 games and the list drops to seven names; if the standard is 30 games, there’s only one name: Daryl Spencer of the New York Giants.
Now, of all the things Scott Kingery could become known for, versatility probably isn’t at the top of the list. The desired comparables for Kingery are Chase Utley and Dustin Pedroia, not Luis Gonzalez and Daryl Spencer; the former was out of baseball after three years, and the latter bounced around for about ten mostly middling campaigns.
Of course, if he doesn’t deliver on the field, Kingery won’t set any records. Thus far, with mandatory small sample size caveats, his glove has played everywhere: Kingery’s one error came at his “true” position of second base, and he’s already logged an outfield assist. In a recent podcast with longtime Phillies scribe Jim Salisbury, Kingery professed to enjoy not knowing where he’ll play each day. On the offensive side, he’s in his first mini-slump: 2 for his last 20 after an 0 for 5 in Sunday’s series finale. But this is unsurprising, as the league starts to compile a book on him.
In the end, I think it’s unlikely Kingery approaches the records held by Gonzalez or Spencer. Someone could get hurt, or the team could lose patience with Maikel Franco or J.P. Crawford, or another club could come calling with a great offer for Hernandez; in any of those scenarios, Kingery claims a steady position. And while I doubt this, if Kingery falls into a long slump the Phils might see if a long stretch at one position would set him right. But at the least, he’s giving the team’s decision-makers something to think about over the long haul, and it’s possible he could approach some rookie records en route to career accomplishments that have more to do with quality than variety.