Phillies GM Matt Klentak defends Scott Kingery's defense, keeps it real about his offense

Phillies GM Matt Klentak defends Scott Kingery's defense, keeps it real about his offense

Lately, no Phillies have struggled at the plate more than Scott Kingery and Aaron Altherr. 

Kingery's on-base percentage is down to .277, second worst among all National League regulars, ahead of only Miami's Lewis Brinson.

Altherr, who opened the season batting fifth and third and playing right field for the Phils, has slumped so badly that he was optioned to Triple A on Sunday night after hitting .171 in 248 plate appearances.

Kingery has had so many uncompetitive at-bats this season, he's made so many weak outs. He's looked overmatched, which is understandable for a rookie. It's how plenty of rookies begin their careers. The Cody Bellingers of the world are the exceptions. That's not an excuse, just a reality.

On Tuesday morning, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak joined the 97.5 Morning Show with Anthony Gargano and Bob Cooney and addressed the play of both. Klentak defended Kingery's defense but was honest about his offense. 

"He hasn't hit," the GM said of Kingery. "He's had flashes, but consistency has been a challenge for him at the plate this year. I can tell you what our hitting people believe, what our manager believes, everybody in our organization is 100 percent bullish on this kid. 

"It's his first year in the big leagues and he's thrust into a pretty big spot and he's learning on the fly. He's not the first kid to come up, the first talented player, big prospect to come up and struggle early."

Defensively, Kingery has improved at shortstop. He's made one error in his last 284 innings there. He's not a plus defender there yet, but he's shown range lately and his throws to first base have been consistently strong. That was something Phils shortstops struggled with in April.

"I don't think defense has been Scotty's issue at all," Klentak said. "We know what he can do defensively at second, we've seen that for years. And I've got to tell you, we just went through an exercise where we watched, I think it was the last 100 balls hit to Scott Kingery and just watched. He makes every play and makes a perfect, firm chest-high throw to first every single time.

"It has been unbelievable how quickly this kid has adjusted to shortstop, to the point where I have no problem at this stage calling him a shortstop. I realize he's sort of known as a second baseman, but he really is playing a good defensive shortstop."

It's interesting to note how similar Kingery's offensive numbers are to Freddy Galvis' this season and Galvis' career. 

Galvis this season: .236/.295/.330

Galvis' career: .244/.288/.366

Kingery: .234/.277/.329

Only offering that info to provide perspective on Kingery's struggles at the plate, not to make an argument that the Phillies should have held on to Galvis.

What went wrong for Altherr

As for Altherr, the demotion made sense. He needs to be able to play every day to build confidence and get through this. The talent is still there, the skill set is still there. Altherr didn't hit .272 with 19 homers and an .856 OPS last season by accident. He's a great athlete with power, speed and above-average defensive instincts. When he struggles, his swing gets long.

That's been the case most of this season. Altherr has struck out in 33 percent of his plate appearances compared to 25 percent last season. He's also grounded into a ton of double plays — 12 — with no player in the majors hitting into them at a higher rate.

But this trip to Lehigh Valley will be temporary for Altherr. Once he's hitting and the Phils believe he can help off the bench or against left-handed pitching, Altherr will be back.

"He's probably the single most talented dude in that clubhouse," Klentak said, "just from a pure strength and athleticism and grace and just ability perspective. And he's just completely out of the rhythm right now. Not entirely his fault. We've got Rhys, and Odubel, and Nick Williams, all of whom are playing very well right now. They deserve the regular reps and Aaron's just not able to get those regular reps. He gets a start a week and a pinch-hit at-bat here and there. 

"We sent him down, and we told him this because we need him to be a guy for us down the stretch. We know he can do it. He was one of the best players on our team last year. We've seen it."

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Phillies pitching prospect Zach Warren has a dirty car but a bright future

Phillies pitching prospect Zach Warren has a dirty car but a bright future

Every one of the 15 minor-league prospects that the Phillies have invited to big-league spring training camp has a story.

Zach Warren’s is unique because (in his heart) he was a Phillie before he was technically a Phillie.

Warren grew up in Vineland, New Jersey, in the “glory era,” as he correctly called it, when the Phillies were racking up National League East titles, going to two World Series and winning one of them. Young Zach rooted for Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, but his eye always drifted toward the work being done by Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, not surprising because Warren was a left-handed pitcher on the rise in those days.

After successful runs at St. Augustine Prep in South Jersey and the University of Tennessee, Warren is still a pitcher on the rise. Three strong seasons in the Phillies’ minor-league system earned him an invite to major-league spring training camp next month in Clearwater.

At the Phillies’ prospect-education seminar last week at Citizens Bank Park, Warren recalled the pinch-me moment when he got the phone call from Josh Bonifay, the Phillies director of player development, telling him he’d been invited to big-league camp, and following up that thrilling news with a phone call to his dad, Geoff.

“I had dropped off my car to be worked on in Vineland the day before,” Zach recalled with a laugh, “and my dad was a little unhappy because it was dirty and had no gas. I told him the news and that cheered him up.”

Warren, 23, is one of a handful of left-handed relievers coming to big-league camp on non-roster invites. Most, if not all, will open the season in the minor leagues, but team officials, including new manager Joe Girardi and new pitching coach Bryan Price, clearly want to get a look at what they have for future reference. The Phillies, under general manager Matt Klentak, have been aggressive running relievers in and out from the minors so it’s likely several of these relievers will get a shot in the majors this season. And if they throw strikes and get outs – well, they’ll stick around.

Warren, 6-5 and 200 pounds, was selected in the 14th round of the 2017 draft. He features a mid-90s fastball, a slider and a changeup. He has racked up double-digit strikeouts-per-nine innings in each of his three pro seasons. He spent the last two seasons working late in the game, including closer, at Lakewood and Clearwater. In 116 2/3 innings the last two seasons, he allowed just 76 hits and 34 earned runs (2.62 ERA) while striking out 180 and walking 66.

The 2020 season will be a prove-it one for Warren. He projects to make the jump to Double A Reading and be an important part of that club’s bullpen. Double A is the level where they separate the men from the boys. Have success at the level and you can rise quickly to the majors.

“I’m not thinking too far in advance, where I’m going to be and things like that,” said Warren, showing a healthy perspective. “All I can control is working on what I need to work on to get better and becoming the best player I can be. My ideal blueprint for this season is to make strides and get better and help my team win games and get to the playoffs.”

First-timers in big-league camp are like sponges. They soak up the experience and try to learn from the players who’ve walked the miles they hope to one day walk. Warren has a healthy respect for Adam Morgan, another lefty reliever and SEC product from the University of Alabama, and is eager to speak with him.

“I want to learn from Adam Morgan,” Warren said. “He was up as a starter and had to go to the minors to learn, adapt and change, and he developed and got back. I think there’s a ton I could learn from someone like that.

“I’m just looking forward to learning from everybody. I think it’s going to be a great experience and I can’t wait to get down there and get going.”

With a clean car and a full tank of gas, of course.


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Brian Dawkins schools Phillies prospects on how to handle boos

Brian Dawkins schools Phillies prospects on how to handle boos

A group of Phillies prospects was in town this week for the organization’s annual prospects education seminar.

One of those lessons came from a legend.

Brian Dawkins, the most motivational athlete this city has ever seen, shared with the group his thoughts on playing in Philadelphia and responding to the passionate fan base.

“Playing in Philadelphia is different,” Dawkins said. “If you get on the field, there is a 99.99 percent chance you will be booed. The thing I always knew though was that you may boo me that one time but I’m not gonna make the same mistake again.”

The group included Alec Bohm, the Phillies’ top offensive prospect, and Cristopher Sanchez, a pitching prospect with a 100 mph arm profiled here by Jim Salisbury.

Check out the video here if you’re seeking some extra juice at the gym or just want to see Weapon X drop some jewels.

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