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.”