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Why Scott Kingery could be the key to the Phillies’ offense

The Phils’ second baseman was a heralded prospect, and now is his time to shine.

MLB: Spring Training-Philadelphia Phillies at Tampa Bay Rays Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

When Scott Kingery arrived at Citizens Bank Park on Friday, he appeared healthy. Very healthy.

In fact, the 26-year-old second baseman was sporting some serious guns after an off-season in which he clearly was aiming at staying strong through the rigors of what was thought to be a 162-game schedule. But then COVID-19 hit the baseball world and, specifically, Kingery along with it, who was among several Phils players who tested positive for the coronavirus. His recovery from the virus delayed his arrival to Philadelphia by a little over a week.

Happily, Kingery has since tested negative for the disease, although he made clear the virus was no joke and, had it happened during the season, likely would have cost him at least a month. But he’s with the team now and, as a 60-game sprint to the finish line awaits, the development of Kingery will be something to watch closely.

The former second round pick enters his third season in the big leagues, but for the first time in his career, finds himself penciled in as the starter at his natural position, second base. Manager Joe Girardi does not seem inclined to move him around the diamond as a super-utility player like his predecessor Gabe Kapler did, and one wonders how much of an impact that will have on his offense.

Back in March, Kingery appeared on Kevin Frandsen’s podcast Pine Tar For Breakfast, and talked about the difficulty of playing multiple positions.

“It’s unbelievable,” Kingery said. “I don’t know if people realize the effect that playing all over has on you. Not just physically, [but] as much as it is a mental thing. Just having that routine of showing up and you don’t even have to look at the lineup. You know you’re going to be in the lineup. You know you’re going to be playing one position.”

He also later talked about how he was looking forward to playing second base full-time.

“The fact that you can go to one position and get so many reps at that position that if you’re body’s hurting, your legs feel a little bit heavy, you can take a day off from groundballs and go into the game and still feel fine. You’ll feel like you didn’t miss a beat.”

It’s easy to forget Kingery started the 2019 season red-hot as the team’s starting center fielder. Among all outfielders with at least 200 plate appearances in the first half last season, Kingery’s OPS ranked 10th in the National League (.889). By comparison, Bryce Harper was 18th (.839 in 395 PAs) and Andrew McCutchen was 20th (.834 in 262 PAs). His 1.9 fWAR was 12th, behind Harper’s 2.1, which ranked 9th in the NL.

However in the second half, the bottom fell out. His 0.8 fWAR in 282 PAs was 27th, and was one-tenth of a WAR below rookie Adam Haseley’s 0.9. His OPS fell to .710, which ranked 35th out of 37 NL outfielders with at least 200 PAs in the second half.

So is Kingery poised for a “breakout season” in 2020? It’s certainly possible, but it’s also really hard to get a sense of what to expect from players in this COVID-shortened 2020 campaign. Everyone’s spring got thrown into chaos and, in Kingery’s case, he contracted the virus and suffered some pretty serious symptoms. Who knows what kind of an effect that will have on his ability to play baseball this summer?

But a productive Kingery could be the lynchpin to this offense’s success. We’ve all seen what having a top offensive player at a position like second base, one who also plays great defense and knows how to run the bases, can be to a team. He’ll likely bat near the bottom of the lineup (unless he’s leading off sometimes), but in a season with a DH, hitting No. 6 or 7 will still provide him with a ton of opportunities to drive in runs. He’s got a nice combination of power (19 HRs in 126 games in ‘19) and speed (15 stolen bases in 19 attempts) and could be a dynamic, high energy force in the lineup.

But it’s also possible Kingery was overly hyped. Given how Phils prospects have trended the last few years, that wouldn’t surprise anyone.

No matter what happens in 2020, it’s almost unfair to judge anyone given how crazy the season has been, but in order for the Phillies to finish ahead of teams like the Braves, Mets, and Nationals, and in order for them to beat the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays this year, they’re going to need young players like Kingery to do something they haven’t done before.

Be consistently good for an entire season. Even if it’s just 60 games long.

On the latest episode of Hittin’ Season, Liz Roscher, Justin Klugh and I chatted extensively about Kingery and expectations for him this year, and we tried to answer the question, “Was the selection of Mickey Moniak with the No. 1 overall pick a “disaster?”