The Phillies’ equipment truck arrived in Clearwater on Thursday. Spring training opens next week.
There will be competition for jobs in camp, especially in the starting pitching rotation and the bullpen.
But among the eight everyday positions, there won’t be an abundance of drama.
Center field will be the only position where there will be an all-out battle for playing time. The contestants include Roman Quinn, Adam Haseley, Scott Kingery and possibly a fourth entrant.
Odubel Herrera could be added to the competition, depending if he’s invited to big-league camp more than a year after his suspension for violating MLB's policy against domestic violence expired. Herrera is under contract through 2021 and is currently assigned to the minor leagues.
Dave Dombrowski, the Phillies president of baseball operations, has said multiple times over the last month that the team was considering inviting Herrera to camp. On Wednesday, Dombrowski said the team was still working through some “personal” details not necessarily related to Herrera’s infraction before it made the call to bring him to camp or not.
If Herrera is in camp, he will get a shot to win the job that he held from 2015 to May 2019. He was a National League All-Star in 2016.
Kingery’s inclusion in the group that will compete for the center field job is not a surprise. He played 65 games there in 2019, helping fill the void created by Herrera’s suspension that season.
Deep down inside, Kingery has long yearned for the chance to return to his best position, second base. He got that chance last season but did not fully seize it. He struggled early in the season, causing the front office to go look for offense. Alec Bohm was called up to play third base and Jean Segura was moved from third to second. Kingery was the odd man out.
Kingery hit just .159 with 35 strikeouts and nine walks in 124 plate appearances in the shortened 2020 season. In retrospect, there were reasons why he never got untracked in 2020. He was knocked on his back by COVID-19 in June and experienced bouts of shortness of breath for weeks after that. He also suffered shoulder and back injuries.
Nonetheless, Kingery remains the odd man out as the Phillies get set for the season with an infield of Bohm at third, Segura at second, Didi Gregorius at shortstop and Rhys Hoskins at first base.
“Jean’s going to play second base and Scotty is going to fight for his playing time all over the field, in a sense,” manager Joe Girardi said.
Kingery, who turns 27 in April, received a six-year, $24 million contract from the Phillies in spring training 2018, before ever playing a game in the majors. At the time, the Phillies were set at second base with Cesar Hernandez. Former general manager Matt Klentak and former manager Gabe Kapler envisioned Kingery being a super-utility man who could play all over the diamond. Now, after a short stint as the everyday second baseman at the start of the 2020 season, Kingery is right back there.
“Scotty is versatile which allows us to give guys days off,” Girardi said. “We can move him around. We were hoping last year to get him to one position, but it just never happened because he got sick and he was never the player that we thought he would be probably because of the COVID, and then he hurt his shoulder and then his back and there were a lot of things he went through last year. But we’re looking for a healthy Scotty Kingery to make a huge impact all around the diamond because I really believe that he’s capable of doing that.”
If Kingery needs reason to believe he can succeed as a super-utility player, he can look at his 2019 season, his best in the majors. He played all over the field and hit .258 with 19 homers, 55 RBIs and a .788 OPS in 500 plate appearances. The Phillies and Kingery thought that would be a springboard to a strong season in 2020, but little went according to plan — for anyone — in 2020.
Though Kingery profiles as someone who can play all over, it’s not out of the question that he could play himself into a regular job in center field in spring training.
Someone has to emerge with it.
“That’s the one spot that we’re not sure who’s going to take hold of,” Dombrowski said. “And in saying that, you could take hold of it in spring training, but you have to continue to produce, because there’s going to be other guys that are trying to get that spot, so that will definitely be a competition.”