The Kingery Shortstop Dilemma
Last week Matt Gelb wrote about the difficulty the Phillies are facing with trying to compete and trying to develop their young players. There is no player at the center of this more than Scott Kingery. Coming into the year, Kingery didn’t look entirely major league ready. He was coming off a strong spring, but his AAA numbers were not great, especially with regard to his approach at the plate. Despite this, the Phillies saw enough upside to sign him a large contract and send him right to the majors.
The problem was and has been that Scott Kingery is a second baseman and the Phillies already have a solid second baseman. The Phillies have tried to deal with this by shoehorning Kingery in at other positions. Kingery can play a competent outfield, but outside of the Rhys Hoskins’ brief 10 day trip to the DL the Phillies have had 4 outfielders they all want to get playing time. That leaves shortstop and third base. At shortstop the Phillies have another top prospect in J.P. Crawford who is known for his glove, and at third they have a former top prospect in Maikel Franco who the Phillies would like to see improve. When Crawford was out with an arm injury, this all made some sense because the Phillies didn’t have another shortstop and it got Kingery’s bat in the lineup for development.
On the surface, Kingery should be able to move around the diamond. He is an athletic player who was already a great fielder at second base. He has a good glove, good hands, great body control, and plus plus speed giving him great range. He is by all accounts a hard worker with great baseball IQ. Theoretically that player will work hard to understand the actions at other positions given enough repetitions. This all leaves off the one thing that Scott Kingery cannot improve no matter how hard he tries, and this is his arm. Scott Kingery has a fine arm for second base, it probably even has average strength, especially if he gets his feet set. Here he is making a great play at short.
And here is J.P. Crawford making a play from a similar spot on the field
The pure arm strength difference shows immediately, and Crawford is not Manny Machado over at shortstop. The end result of this is that there are a set of plays against certain runners that Kingery cannot make. The problem is worse at third base where he no longer would need to make the throw from deep in the hole, but instead opens himself up to the bunt play which is almost all pure arm strength.
In an ideal world, Kingery would not play the left side of the infield except in situations like Crawford’s injury where there are no other options. In an ideal world he is a great defensive second baseman. However, with Crawford back the Phillies have to juggle playing time. For now it looks like Maikel Franco is the odd man out. He has not shown anything at the plate and is older and more experienced than Crawford and Kingery, both of whom are still rookies. That leaves the question, who plays short and who plays third. The ideal configuration comes from moving the prospect known for his glove at shortstop to third base and playing the second baseman at short.
This configuration works for a couple of reasons. The first of which is Crawford is a magnificent defender at third. It turns out that if you take a good shortstop and put them at third they make a good third baseman (see Machado, Manny). Crawford’s range and instincts allow him to cover a lot more ground than your average third baseman. Theoretically, this should cut off some of the balls that really get deep in the hole at shortstop (at least compared to with Maikel Franco at third). This should help protect Kingery and it also keeps him from being in a situation where teams can exploit the bunt against him. Kingery is still going to have some throws that he can’t make easily and the normal growing pains at short, but he is going to kill the defense less than at third.
Long term, the Phillies current situation is untenable. Crawford at third is fine if there is a better shortstop (in most fans dream scenarios this is Machado coming to Philly if he is promised that he will be the shortstop), but a lot of his value comes from his position and his glove. Kingery is not a shortstop, and really is only there because the Phillies forced him to the majors and forced to develop him there. They have hit pause on the Cesar Hernandez vs Scott Kingery debate for now, but at the trading deadline or in the offseason they are going to need to figure it out.