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It was just one scout and one opinion, but then it was another scout, sharing the same sentiment.
What player impressed you most this spring?
Scott Kingery, Philadelphia Phillies.
Yes, I know about Ronald Acuna, and so do the scouts. I’ll stick with what I wrote about the Atlanta Braves‘ 20-year-old star-to-be when spring training began. Whatever the service-time advantages of sending Acuna down—as the Braves did Monday—he’s ready to play and ready to star.
This isn’t about tearing up the top prospect lists (like this one on MLB.com) that had Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels and Acuna at the top and had Kingery at a respectable but not eye-popping No. 35. This is about impressions and the way a veteran scout feels after a few days watching the 23-year-old Phillies infielder.
“The guy is making a name for himself by the way he plays,” the one American League scout said. “He’s gritty, he’s tough and he plays the game the right way.”
Mike McGinnis/Getty Images
He’s a second baseman who was a top college hitter in the Pacific-12 Conference (University of Arizona), so naturally there will be comparisons to Dustin Pedroia (Arizona State) and Chase Utley (UCLA). Like Pedroia, Kingery is a touch undersized (he’s listed at 5’10”), one reason both lasted until the second round of the draft.
And just as Utley was the grit of the Phillies team that won a World Series in 2008, Kingery could be key to the team the Phillies are building now.
He could be ready now, and one National League scout who watched him in the minor leagues last season suggested Kingery should be the Phils’ starting second baseman on Opening Day. That’s unlikely, though, with Cesar Hernandez in place.
Kingery only played 63 games last year in Triple-A, after a midseason promotion from Double-A Reading, so it would be easy for the Phillies to justify having him start the season back in Lehigh Valley. It would also save service time and delay his free-agent eligibility, not that they would ever admit that’s a consideration.
What has been just as interesting this spring has been the way the Phillies have moved Kingery around, having him play third base, shortstop, center field and second base.
“Based on his skill set, I think he could play, legitimately, anywhere on the diamond and be just fine,” new Phillies manager Gabe Kapler told reporters. “I don’t think there’s much he can’t do on a baseball field, athletically.”
He’s the kind of player who grows on managers and scouts. Pedroia was that way. David Chadd, who drafted Pedroia for the Red Sox, once told me he realized that every time he went to see Arizona State play that year, Pedroia did something to help his team win.
It takes more than that, obviously, and Pedroia had enough skill that he became the AL MVP in 2008. Kingery has skill, too, enough that he hit 26 home runs with an .889 OPS in 132 minor league games last year. His numbers this spring have been even better, with three home runs, four steals and a 1.086 OPS in 39 plate appearances.
He’s handled the multiple positions well, too, as you can see in the video on this MLB Pipeline tweet:
MLB Pipeline @MLBPipeline
Beautiful barehanded play from #Phillies’ Scott Kingery at the hot corner! The versatile prospect is No. 2 on the @Phillies’ Top 30 list: https://t.co/Sh2AfwNQoK https://t.co/T4TZzw83hA
Maybe third base becomes Kingery’s spot, especially if Maikel Franco struggles the way he did for a significant part of last season. Or maybe he replaces Hernandez as the second baseman, inheriting the job Utley held for more than a decade at Citizens Bank Park.
Or maybe with that versatility the Phillies end up playing him everywhere, Ben Zobrist style.
“I love that they’re moving me around,” he said.
The manager and the scouts had to love that answer, too, just one more part of a great impression Scott Kingery has made this spring.
Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.
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