In Signing Scott Kingery the Phillies Show the Complicated Process of Building a Young Core
On Sunday, the Phillies announced both that Scott Kingery would be on the opening day roster and that they had agreed to a 6 year deal with 3 options years. There is a lot going on in that statement, both for the Phillies and Scott as baseball entities, and for the two of them as financial entities.
It is probably best to start with the ugly part first, the financial aspect of this contract. For the Phillies, they guarantee Kingery the most money ever to a player with no MLB service time and a contract that is at least market compared to other early pre-arb contracts. In theory, the Phillies are taking on a lot of risk here. Kingery has some flaws, flaws that are why he is a good, but not top in the game prospect. The problem is there is no actual risk. The Phillies are paying $8M in the 6th year of this deal, which is a tiny bit of money in relation to their overall revenues and not a huge overpay if Kingery is just a solid utility bench player by that point in his contract. Kingery’s profile plays well into this as well. He is a good defender with great speed, and a good feel for contact. On its own, he is a fine utility infielder. His question marks are in his power and on base abilities. He has answered a lot of questions about whether his power is at least average, but the questions on his approach still remain. He does not have a long track record of struggle, he just lacks the upper minor league track record of success (it is a small sample size when talking about walk and strikeouts rates). The Phillies take on very little risk here, and the upside of this deal is that they just locked up an All-Star caliber player for his entire prime, for less than $7M AAV over the course of the 9 years of the deal.
The problem is that the current CBA places all of the risk on Scott Kingery. Before this deal, Scott Kingery had no guaranteed money coming his way. At best he would have opened on the major league roster and made the major league minimum during his time in the majors, and then had two more years of the minimum and 3 years of arbitration, with each of those years non-guaranteed. At worst he would have made pennies in AAA for a few weeks before than facing the same thing, but with 4 years of arbitration. By taking this deal, Kingery gives up substantial future earnings potential in exchange for guaranteeing life changing money for himself. It is not a fault of Scott, it is a product of the CBA and the team’s control over the player’s future.
Now the end results of all of this is that Scott Kingery is a member of the Philadelphia Phillies for up to 9 years if the team wants him. Based on his past and other members of the Phillies core, the long term position for Kingery should be at second base. For now that position is occupied by Cesar Hernandez. Second base is not the only position that is occupied, it is the whole diamond. The Phillies have tried hard to prepare for this with Kingery playing all over the field this spring. He is playable at shortstop, third base, and all three outfield positons, but he is not going to be a defensive asset at any of those positions right now (he should be a positive in left field and possible center field). The Phillies already have 4 outfielders needing playing time, so with everyone healthy, he is unlikely to see much time in the outfield. It is unlikely that everyone stays healthy all year, and Kingery’s flexibility will allow Kapler to patch any holes. Until then, he will probably see 3-4 starts at a week and a lot of pinch hits and in game substitutions.
That is the playing time side of the equation, but what about what happens on the field. Kingery has strong wrists and a good swing. He has seen his strikeout rate balloon at times, but his ceiling there because of his swing is probably in the low 20%s, and I suspect he is close to the 20% mark in his rookie year, and long term settles in more in the 15%-17% range. The biggest question about Kingery is his aggressiveness at the plate. In Reading, this past season Kingery posted a 8.8% BB% and played under control, but just like his first trip to Reading in 2016, Kingery’s first taste of AAA saw his walk rate plummet. The same thing happened this spring, with Kingery rarely drawing a walk. Given his power, it would benefit Kingery to be more selective, and with his speed the extra trips to first base would translate directly to more stolen bases. The difference between Kingery being an impact player and just a good player will be whether Kingery is a low or moderate walk player or if he can earn free passes at an above average rate.
When it comes to making impact with the ball, Kingery has made the biggest difference since being drafted. When the Phillies first picked him, Kingery was a low power slap hitter who specialized with hitting the ball down the lines for doubles. Kingery is still small, but he is much stronger, and like many players he has made some changes to his swing to drive the ball more than hitting grounders and letting his legs do the work. When it comes to current raw power, Kingery probably only has above average raw power, but he maximizes it with his hit tool. When combined with the juiced ball, Kingery should hit close to 20 home runs a year at his peak. In addition to the home runs, Kingery still can pepper the gaps with doubles, and because of his legs, triples. His legs are probably Kingery’s best tool, and he is a plus plus runner who still needs some work on stealing success, but could steal 30+ bases a year as well as stealing some infield hits and grabbing extra bases on the base paths.
Unless Kingery’s approach makes a giant jump forward in the majors, it is reasonable to think that he could put up a line with a little less average, power, and BABIP luck than Nick Williams’ 2017 line of .288/.338/.473. That would give the Phillies another above average hitter, and when combined with Kingery’s speed and defense, a potent member of the roster. Long term, the Phillies would like to see more on base and less strikeouts than what Nick did out of Kingery. Even if Kingery does stumble offensively, he should be good enough defensively at second base long term to be a valuable player.
Without going back to the CBA inequalities, the Phillies have brought another exciting prospect and building block up to their major league roster. It isn’t just about 2018 for the Phillies and Kingery, he is part of the process of building joining the young core of Hoskins, Crawford, Alfaro, Altherr, Williams, and Nola has the Phillies look to return the playoffs.