Phillies

2B prospect Scott Kingery 'might be on fast track to big leagues'

2B prospect Scott Kingery 'might be on fast track to big leagues'

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Phillies' Double A Reading club had 89 wins last season, the second most in all of minor-league baseball.

With Roman Quinn, Jorge Alfaro, Rhys Hoskins, Dylan Cozens and others, the Reading club was loaded with top prospects.

That's why it was so remarkable late last season when a Phillies' official said, "You know, there are nights when Scott Kingery is the best player on the field."

Kingery, a second baseman who turns 23 in April, was the Phillies' second-round pick in the 2015 draft, a former walk-on at the University of Arizona who blossomed into a Pac-12 batting champ (.392) his junior year.

Kingery, 5-10 and 180 pounds of pure ballplayer, was so impressive his first two seasons in the Phillies' minor-league system that he earned an invite to big-league camp this spring.

He is making the most of it.

He had a huge game in the Phillies' 7-5 win over the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday. He singled, doubled and homered in four at-bats. He also made a couple of nice plays in the field, including a backpedaling, over-the-shoulder grab in shallow right field to end the top of the eighth inning.

The Phillies rallied for four runs to come back from two runs down in the bottom of that inning. Of course, spring star Brock Stassi had the big hit, a three-run homer to put the Phillies ahead.

Stassi, who has two homers and a double in the four games in which he has played, is a serious candidate to win a spot on the Phillies' bench.

Kingery -- who has just 37 games and 156 at-bats of experience above the Single A level -- is not a candidate to break with the big club. But manager Pete Mackanin thinks he might not be that far away.

"I heard a lot about Scott Kingery and how good a player he is and he sure looks like one," Mackanin said after Tuesday's game. "He's made a good impression on me and the coaching staff. Today was a good example of what he can do. He might be on the fast track to the big leagues."

Kingery is a pretty levelheaded kid. As happy as he was with his game Tuesday, he was quite realistic. He needs more seasoning. The blueprint calls for him to open back at Double A and build on the six weeks he spent there last year.

"I feel I need to spend some more time in Double A," Kingery said. "I didn't get much time there last year. I think that's what I'll head back to and just try to figure out that pitching and climb up the ladder from there."

Jesmuel Valentin is expected to open the season as the second baseman at Triple A Lehigh Valley. He is a prospect, as well. He has been slowed in this camp by a sore shoulder.

The Phillies' depth at second base will put some heat on Cesar Hernandez to continue the improvement he showed in the second half of last season. It could also eventually turn Hernandez into a trade chip. According to multiple baseball sources, the Phillies were willing to listen on Hernandez this offseason, though the price was very high.

The thoughts and sounds behind Bryce Harper's jaw-dropping home run

The thoughts and sounds behind Bryce Harper's jaw-dropping home run

Aaron Nola had no chance at seeing where the ball landed.

Not many did, unless you were a fan leisurely strolling through the center-field concourse and enjoying the amenities of Ashburn Alley at Citizens Bank Park.

"I think it went over the stadium, from where I was sitting," Nola said. "It was a long one."

That's how powerfully Bryce Harper struck his first-inning home run in the Phillies' 2-1 win over the Rockies (see observations). The ball left his bat at 114.1 miles per hour, traveled 466 feet and cleared the brick walls in center field.

It was loud and it made the sellout crowd of 42,354 fans louder.

"I think just as a fan, you just stop and watch the distance of the ball," manager Gabe Kapler said. "I don't think we saw a ball go that far to center field all year last year and certainly not this year. That's rare territory. Pretty impressive."

Harper pounced on a first-pitch fastball from Rockies right-hander Antonio Senzatela. The swing consisted of everything you want to see from Harper, who is 5 for 15 (.333) over his last four games with the homer and three doubles.

He's staying back and driving the ball.

"I think he's beginning to feel it," Kapler said. "I think part of that comes from the work he's been doing with [hitting coach] John Mallee, specifically being a little bit taller on his backside and his hands being a little bit closer to his body."

Harper didn't want to make too much about the distance of his home run. He remembered some advice from a former manager and five-time All-Star.

"Matt Williams always used to tell me, 'It's not how far, it's how many you hit,'" Harper said. "I'm just trying to go about it the right way every single day, doing things out there that help this team win. Just putting the bat to the ball and trying to win games.

Harper has eight home runs and 28 RBIs in 45 games. He has a .371 on-base percentage and is second in baseball to only Mike Trout with 34 walks.

However, he's hitting .230 and was 10 for his last 70 (.143) prior to this 5-for-15 stretch. The Phillies are seeing positive signs, though, from Harper's swing.

"We all believed he was going to break out of what he was in," Nola said. "Guy works hard, works hard at what he does. We've all seen what he's done in his career. Nobody is pressing over him, we know he's the gamer that he is and he does a lot to help the team.

On Saturday, it was a walk, a double and vicious contact on the first pitch he saw.

"I think Harp is best when he's gap to gap," Kapler said. "Every once in a while, he's out in front and pulls the ball down the line. He's at his best when he's hitting high line drives into the gaps, and the ones that he gets just underneath go into the seats or in this case, over everything in center field."

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The weather is warming and here comes Phillies' Aaron Nola

The weather is warming and here comes Phillies' Aaron Nola

The sun was beaming and Aaron Nola was in attack mode, letting the ball rip through the 78-degree heat.

Just like the days back in Baton Rouge, Louisiana?

"It's hot as hell down there in the summer," Nola said with a smile about his hometown.

It wasn't quite that hot Saturday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park, but Nola looked at home. He looked like himself, the Nola everybody watched in 2018 when he finished third in the National League Cy Young voting.

Or on second thought …

"Not just the 2018 version, but the best version of the 2018 version," manager Gabe Kapler said.

As the weather turns to warmer temperatures, the man with the most important right arm on the first-place Phillies could be turning into form. It sure appeared that way Saturday as he struck out a career-high-tying 12 batters to pick apart the Rockies in the Phillies' 2-1 win (see observations).

Nola delivered six innings of one-run ball in 106 pitches. He was firing from the get-go, striking out the side in the first inning on 13 pitches. All three punchouts were looking and punctuated by fastballs.

Five days ago from the same mound, Nola needed 38 pitches to finish the first inning against the Brewers. The weather was miserable, a wet 48 degrees at first pitch. He lasted just three frames, throwing 84 pitches in a no-decision.

That performance is now safely buried in the past.

"He was sharp, he was electric, he was running his fastball back over the plate off of the inside," Kapler said. "The curveball was sharp from the outset. When his curveball is good, you see lots of swings and misses, you see empty swings, and that's what was happening today for him."

Nola has a Louisiana coolness to him. The 25-year-old is laid-back, but he's laser-focused.

It's why the Phillies haven't been too worried about his 4.86 ERA entering Saturday or his pinpoint command not being all there through nine starts.

"When I've had conversations with Aaron after the starts that haven't been great, he's so consistent in talking about his process and that being the thing that he can control and the work that he does between starts," Kapler said. "He never comes off of that position. He doesn't cry in his soup, he's not thinking about the last outing that he had, he's already on to the next one. I think the reason that we saw him come out like lightning today is because of the work that he did between starts."

Nola improved to 4-0 with a 4.47 ERA, 60 strikeouts and 21 walks. He's 10 starts into the 2019 season and is only warming. Still, the Phillies have led the NL East and are just starting to see his best around mid-May.

"That's what I remember when I was with the Nats, facing that," Bryce Harper said. "It's getting hot out there, he's from Baton Rouge, so he likes pitching in hot weather, warm weather."

A quiet competitor like Nola knew Saturday's effort was possible, even with his previous start still fresh.

"It's baseball, anything happens," Nola said. "Last outing, I never threw 80-some pitches in three innings. I've never done it before, but it happens. Things can change really quick. Always got to trust what you're doing and keep working hard through the ups and downs."

That warm weather didn't hurt, either.

"It felt good outside," Nola said. "I got a good sweat on, I like sweating when I'm out there."

The Phillies will like Nola in the summer.

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