Phillies

Rising 2B prospect Scott Kingery climbing ladder, impressing Phillies

Rising 2B prospect Scott Kingery climbing ladder, impressing Phillies

The Phillies’ Double A Reading club was a terrific story in 2016.

The Fightin Phils had the second-best record in all of minor-league baseball, their 89 wins topped only by the New York Yankees’ Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre club, which had 91.

Reading trotted out a lineup that included a number of top prospects that will be making their way to Philadelphia soon. Heck, outfielder Roman Quinn and catcher Jorge Alfaro made cameo appearances in September. Sluggers Dylan Cozens and Rhys Hoskins led Reading’s offense with an astounding combined total of 78 homers and 241 RBIs, and pitcher Ben Lively went 7-0 before earning a promotion to Triple A.

There were more contributors than this, but you get the idea.

In August, as the Fightin Phils’ remarkable season was nearing the finish line, a high-ranking official with the big-league club was talking about all the promising players who had helped play a role in Reading’s season. The official ran through a list of names, adding superlatives liberally, and then issued a notable P.S.

“And, you know, there are many nights when Kingery is the best player on the field,” the man said.

That was a pretty good testament to the player that Scott Kingery has made himself.

Kingery, 22, was the Phillies’ second-round draft pick in 2015, a scrappy second baseman out of the University of Arizona. In less than two full seasons of professional baseball, he has established himself as one of the club’s top prospects and there are a lot of rumblings that he could be the team’s everyday second baseman in a year or two.

Kingery’s development path will include a stop back at Reading to open the 2017 season. He spent just six weeks and 37 games at Double A in 2016 and needs more time there. In those six weeks, he hit just .250 with a .273 on-base percentage. But he exhibited the head, heart, baserunning and defensive ability that have won him comparisons to Boston Red Sox star Dustin Pedroia and led Phillies officials to say things like, “There are many nights when Kingery is the best player on the field.”

Phillies officials believe that Kingery, after having gotten a taste of Double A late in the 2016 season, will be ready to shine with the bat in 2017 and be closer to the player that hit .293 with 29 doubles and a .360 on-base percentage in 94 games at advanced Single A Clearwater before arriving in Reading.

During a recent interview in Arizona, where he spent part of the fall playing for the Scottsdale Scorpions of the Arizona Fall League, Kingery recalled the day in July when he learned he was being promoted to the Phillies’ rampaging Double A team. He replaced Jesmuel Valentin, another promising second baseman who had been moved up to Triple A. The Phillies’ brass thinks so highly of Valentin that it recently added him to the 40-man roster, protecting him from being selected in next month’s Rule 5 draft. With Valentin and Kingery coming, the Phillies have the second-base depth that should inspire improving Cesar Hernandez to continue doing that as he heads into 2017.

“That was the best part,” said Kingery, recalling the day he got the news that he was moving to Double A. “They told me, ‘Hey, we’re only going to send up guys who we think can make that already incredible lineup even better,’ so it was really exciting.

“When I got there and looked at that lineup, it was incredible from top to bottom. That lineup had a lot of guys that are going to be future Phillies, some core guys who are going to be up in the big leagues real soon.”

While Kingery’s climb to the list of top Phillies prospects has been swift, his overall baseball journey has not been completely smooth. He was not recruited by any Division I college teams coming out of high school in Phoenix. He wrote letters to college coaches asking them to take a peek at him. Finally, a member of the coaching staff at Arizona took a look at him and offered him a walk-on spot on the Wildcats’ fall roster as a freshman. Essentially, it was a tryout, and Kingery nailed it.

“It definitely put a chip on my shoulder to go out there and prove what I could do every single day because I needed to find some way to make the coaches notice me and put me on the spring roster,” Kingery said. “I just hustled all the time, laid out for every ball I had a chance of getting, took the extra base when I could, basically just played the game the way I know how to and it ended up working out for me.

“Looking back, I would not have taken any other route because it made me not take anything for granted. I still carry that in my game today. I still feel like I have something to prove every day so I’m not going to get complacent.”

Kingery played shortstop in high school. He played the outfield his first two years at Arizona then move to second base as a junior. He hit .354 with a .456 on-base percentage as a sophomore and .392 with a .423 on-base percentage before being drafted as a junior.

At 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, the right-handed hitting Kingery is not a big guy. He projects as someone who could hit near the top of the batting order, get on base, rack up doubles, pop an occasional homer and steal some bags. He stole 26 bases and was caught just five times while at Clearwater in 2016.

“I like to say that my best tool is my speed,” he said. “I’m always working on that. That’s why it was a great thing to be able to play alongside Roman Quinn. He’s incredibly fast. It was great to be able to see the kind of jumps he gets and the leads he takes and pick up on the things he does to try to help my game. When he gets on base, you never knew what was going to happen. He gets himself into scoring position so quickly.”

The Phillies thought enough of Kingery to assign him to the AFL, and though he hit just .234 with a .294 on-base percentage in 20 games, he found the experience beneficial.

“I’ve definitely learned a lot,” he said.

In the AFL, Kingery shared a clubhouse with some big names. Tim Tebow was a teammate, and Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson was around often, in uniform, working with hitting prospects from the Yankees. In the final week of the season, Tebow had a walk-off hit to give Scottsdale a win.

“It was surreal,” Kingery said. “Tebow hits a walk-off and Reggie Jackson is in the dugout. If I look back in 10 years and thought I’d be in the dugout with Reggie Jackson and Tim Tebow at the same time I would never have believed that.”

Maybe in 10 years, Tebow and Jackson will look back and recall the time they shared a dugout with a young second baseman from the Phillies' organization.

“Hopefully that’s the case,” Scott Kingery said. “That would be a great thing.”

Bryce Harper's lefty-mashing gives opposing managers even more to think about late in games

Bryce Harper's lefty-mashing gives opposing managers even more to think about late in games

With a runner or two in scoring position midway through a close game and Bryce Harper due up, managers opposing the Phillies will face the season-long decision whether to go after Harper or pitch around him with Rhys Hoskins lurking. 

On opening day, an intentional walk of Harper led to a Hoskins grand slam. Saturday night in Colorado, Harper continued to complicate that decision for opposing managers by hitting a three-run home run off a lefty reliever.

It is a situation that lacks a correct answer. Do you go lefty-lefty vs. Harper? Do you walk him and go righty-righty vs. Hoskins? Do you base it on who has looked better that night or the few preceding games?

Harper's homer came against 11th-year lefty specialist Mike Dunn, a reliever he's seen more than any other throughout his eight-year major-league career. In 23 plate appearances against lefties this season, Harper has gone 7 for 18 (.389) with two doubles, two homers, four walks and four strikeouts. He's reached base 12 times — more than half of his plate appearances vs. lefties.

This isn't small sample size theater, either. Over the last five seasons, the only left-handed hitter in the majors with a higher OPS against lefties than Harper is Joey Votto. Since 2015, Harper's hit .277/.383/.489 against lefties — a higher batting average than fellow lefties Corey Seager and Robinson Cano, a higher OBP than Freddie Freeman, a better slugging percentage than Christian Yelich.

The pitch Harper hit out last night against Dunn was not a good one. It was an 86 mph, middle-in slider that didn't move much. It was a mistake. But you still have to barrel up that mistake. It could have easily been pulled foul or skied high in the air.

Harper doesn't look great in every at-bat against a lefty. He occasionally pulls off, leaving himself in a bad position to make contact. One of the impressive parts of his game Saturday night was that he rolled over to the right side of the infield twice in his first three at-bats by trying to pull pitches too far outside, before hitting that two-strike homer off Dunn.

Every time Harper does damage against a left-hander, it will create one more wrinkle for the opposing manager to consider. The situation last night was the seventh inning, two outs, runners on second and third with the Phillies up 4-3. There could have been merit to pitching around Harper to get to Hoskins.

Twenty games in, we've seen the Phillies make the other team pay no matter which option they choose.

A step forward for Aaron Nola and a dream come true for Phil Gosselin

A step forward for Aaron Nola and a dream come true for Phil Gosselin

DENVER — Phil Gosselin had been here before, just not in front of 40,530 fans.

“I’ve been up with the bases loaded a lot for the Phillies,” he said late Saturday night in the visiting clubhouse at Coors Field. “It was just in my backyard as a kid and it didn’t really count.”

This one counted.

“It felt good to come through,” he said with a smile.

Gosselin grew up in West Chester, saw his first big-league game at Veterans Stadium wearing a Scott Rolen shirt, and went on to star at Malvern Prep and the University of Virginia. All these years later, after stops on the big-league trail in Atlanta, Arizona, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Texas, Gosselin helped the team he grew up rooting for — the team that he says made him fall in love with baseball — win a game.

The 30-year-old infielder clubbed a three-run double in the fourth inning to give the Phils a lead that they never relinquished in an 8-5 win over the Colorado Rockies (see observations).

What would that little kid in the backyard think now?

“He would think it was all a dream, to be honest,” Gosselin said. “It was always a goal of mine. I never thought I was that great. I never thought I’d be in the big leagues, if I’m being honest. It was one of those pinch-yourself kind of moments.”

Gosselin signed a minor-league deal with the Phils in December and was recalled from Triple A Lehigh Valley on Wednesday. He got the start, his first with the Phils, at shortstop after the team placed Scott Kingery and Jean Segura on the injured list earlier Saturday (see story). Both have hamstring injuries. Gosselin will likely play shortstop until Segura is eligible to come off the IL next weekend. Kingery will need more time than that.

Gosselin’s three-run double, coupled with Bryce Harper’s three-run home run late in the game, helped make a winner out of Aaron Nola on a night when the right-hander showed signs of being his old self after a rough start to the season. Gosselin’s no-out double was a long fly ball to right-center that kept carrying and carrying before hitting the top of the wall.

“I wasn’t sure if it was going to get off the wall or not,” he said. “I was talking to it the whole way. Luckily, I got enough of it.”

One night earlier, Gosselin entered the game after Kingery injured himself. He stroked a two-out single in the top of the 12th and came around to score on a double by Harper. For a few moments, it looked as if he was going to be one of the stars of an extra-innings win. Then Charlie Blackmon ended all the Phillies’ feel-good storylines with a two-run homer in the bottom of the inning and Gosselin’s hit was just a footnote to what manager Gabe Kapler called a “brutal” loss.

“Good organizations, teams that win, have guys like Gosselin come up and perform in big moments,” Kapler said. “You can't win a lot of games, you can't go to the postseason, unless you have guys from the minor leagues come up and perform. Your non-roster guy that gets a big hit for you. He's been swinging the bat really well. He's earned the right to keep rolling.

“I can only imagine what it's like to grow up in the Philadelphia area as a die-hard Phillies fan and then to come through like he did. He must be on top of the world right now.”

Even beyond the victory, which improved the Phils to 12-8, there was something important to feel good about. Nola had struggled in his previous outings. Though he allowed 10 base runners in 5 2/3 innings, he battled, made big pitches and got big outs — he had nine strikeouts — at crucial junctures of the game.

“His back was against the wall early on,” Kapler said. “He's just a fighter. Nothing fazes Aaron Nola. I know that this has been tough to struggle a little bit. But he showed you why he is such a strong performer. He's able to withstand some of that pressure.

“It was really comforting to see him come out and perform like that for us.”

Nola’s fastball reached 95 mph and his curveball got better and better as the night went on.

“I didn’t get a 1-2-3 inning all night,” Nola said. “There was always traffic on base so I had to bear down and focus on making quality pitches.”

Something to build on?

“Absolutely,” Nola said.

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