I know what you’re thinking – “oh boy, another Scott Kingery article”? The 23-year old second baseman went from a relative nobody heading into 2017 to Philadelphia’s top prospect and everyone’s favorite fantasy sleeper heading into 2018. Now search ‘Scott Kingery’ and you will be inundated with new articles every day heaping unbridled praise on the top second base prospect in baseball according to MLB.com.
But I promise this article is a bit different – sort of. Instead of spilling significant ink on Kingery’s re-tooled swing and breakout 2017 season, I want to focus on what really makes him an intriguing fantasy player this year. He’s on most astute manager’s radars right now, but I suspect few truly understand just how valuable he might be when he sticks on Phillies’ roster.
In terms of Kingery’s background, I’ll give the highlights for the uninitiated: Kingery, at 5’10”, 185lbs, does not look like your prototypical power hitter. Nor did he play like one through his first two years in the Phillies minor league system, accruing isolated slugging percentages of 087 to 117 in stops at A, high-A and AA in 2015 and 2016. Then, after taking the advice of hitting instructor Richard Schenck, Kingery made a swing adjustment that improved his timing. The results were startling, as Kingery smacked a 304 / 359 / 530 batting line between AA and AAA last season with 26 home runs, 29 doubles and eight triples last season. He went from a nobody to the best second base prospect in baseball, and is now following that up with 390 / 419 / 732 line in Spring Training.
Thus the newfound hype in traditional and fantasy baseball circles. However, beyond the impressive power bat from the middle infield, there are three distinct factors that make Kingery a terrific player to follow as a traditional baseball fan and roster as a fantasy manager. Let’s take a look at them.
The Phillies might actually be good
Philadelphia, despite ownership of a 66-96 2017 record and consecutive losing seasons since 2013, seems intent on competing now. Over the off-season they signed 31-year old first baseman Carlos Santana to a three-year $60 million contract, despite already having natural first basemen Rhys Hoskins and Tommy Joseph on the roster. Earlier this month they signed veteran hurler Jake Arrieta to a three-year, $75 million contract. These are moves indicative of a team that expects to win in 2018, not five years down the road.
Factoring in the Arrieta signing, Fangraphs currently projects the Phillies for a 75-87 record in 2018. While that’s a far cry from the 89-73 projection for the Nationals, or even the 82-80 projection for the Mets, Philadelphia could easily outperform given all of the young players slotting in prominent roles. Catcher Jorge Alfaro, outfielder Nick Williams, shortstop JP Crawford and Kingery are projected for a combined WAR of 2.1. If I were a betting man – and I am on weekends – I would take the over on that.
A competitive team will increase the odds that Kingery sticks with the club out of camp or receives an early season call-up. Philadelphia has been notoriously patient with their top prospects in the past (see Rhys Hoskins, who might have been in the MLB one year sooner on different clubs), a strategy partially related to refraining from wasting the efforts of a young player on a deadbeat MLB squad. A competitive Philadelphia Phillies will also increase the likelihood that a productive Kingery leapfrogs a struggling positional incumbent, be it Cesar Hernandez at second,
Freddy Galvis at short JP Crawford at short or Mikael Franco at third, for a starting role. Philadelphia isn’t going to have a long leash with their legacy players when they’re trying to compete.
On top of that, new Philadelphia manager Gabe Kapler seems to really like Kingery, which is always a good thing in terms of potential playing time for a young player. Kapler beamed, “[I’m] absolutely enthused by Scott Kingery. We were talking about the player plan meetings…I was sharing with you guys that we have these guys come in for player-plan meetings…he came in and devoured the information that we gave him. He’s successful on the bases, he drives the ball to the middle of the field, he drives the ball to those alleys, he gets good jumps, he’s professional, he’s prepared. I ask him ‘Hey, Scotty, can you play different positions on the field and how would you feel about that?’ [He] absolutely can play center, [he] can play short.” The last point Kapler touched upon – Kingery’s versatility – leads us to another pro-Kingery factor.
He can play anywhere on the diamond
Kingery is a second baseman by trade, but has the athleticism and attitude to play a variety of roles on the field. Last year Kingery played games at third base and shortstop with AAA Lehigh Valley. Thus far in spring training he’s played innings at third, short and center field.
The value of Kingery’s versatility crops up in several ways. First, it will allow him to gain consistent MLB at bats out of the gate. One complaint regarding Kingery’s fantasy viability is the lack of an immediate spot for him in the lineup. Kingery’s trademark keystone position is currently occupied by a deceptively productive Cesar Hernandez, who is only 27 years old and has earned a 7.6 WAR over the last two years. It’s difficult to see Hernandez ceding reps, even for a player with as much potential as Kingery.
But shortstop is another story.
Freddy Galvis is a great fielder but truly awful at the plate, with a career 75 wRC+ JP Crawford is a highly touted prospect that, until late last year, packed a meek stroke in the high minors. I could easily see Kingery taking significant at bats away from Galvis Crawford is the latter struggles at the plate. Third baseman Mikael Franco, though still only 25, has regressed significantly since his hot 2015 debut. He was a 76 wRC+ and negative WAR player last year, presenting another position for Kingery to pilfer at bats or simply steal them all.
The beauty in all of this, outside of easy of at bats for Kingery, is its effect on his fantasy versatility. Kingery is heading into the season with second base eligibility in tow, but we know that he won’t play much there. It’s conceivable that by season’s end Kingery has eligibility at short and third as well, and possibly an outfield position. That type of flexibility is invaluable in fantasy, particularly formats that don’t have utility or generic infield and outfield spots. I’ll go out on a limb and guarantee he has 2B / SS / 3B / CF quadfecta next to his name in Yahoo fantasy leagues, which only require five in-season games, by September.
How about them steals?
For all the discussion that Kingery’s power surge received in 2017, there was surprisingly little talk of the 29 bags he swiped across both his minor league stops. Kingery stole those bases in a mere 34 attempts, a robust 85% success ratio. His stolen base count becomes even more impressive when considering that his extra-base hit ratio (XBH/AB) increased from 8.2% to 11.6% from 2016 to 2017. While extra-base hits are great for overall run production, they’re not great for generating steals.
Outside of a handful, I suspect most of Kingery’s 34 steal attempts came after his 104 singles or 41 walks. This means that he was attempting a steal close to one out of every five times he reached first. Some players are efficient base stealers because they pick their spots, however Kingery swiped bags even when the opposition was expecting it, a sign that he can carry the talent to the majors.
As additional support for his speed, note that Kingery displayed base stealing profligacy in previous seasons. He swiped 30 out of 37 in a full minor league season in 2016 and 11 out of 12 in only 66 games in 2015. He also has 13 triples across his two and one half season minor league career.
The ZiPS projection system tabs Kingery for 20 steals across 130 MLB games this season. The other prognostication measures have him playing way less games but ultimately come to a similar steal per PA ratio. I think that’s a conservative estimate. Although it’s tough to know how Kapler, an analytically inclined manager, will set the stolen base agenda, it appears like he has the utmost confidence in Kingery and loves his aggressiveness. I think 25 steals, which would have had him in the top 10 of MLB base stealers last year, is a reasonable expectation for Kingery so long as he is called up by mid-April.
Putting it all together
Kingery is a player who will be eligible at at least three fantasy positions in short order and is a threat to steal 25 bases. That, right there, makes him immensely valuable. Adding the power he’s shown in the minors in 2017 and this spring to the mix should get fantasy owners salivating at the prospect of owning him. However, remarkably, Kingery’s ADP is 369 and he’s owned in only about 10% of leagues.
I suspect ownership is low because owners look at the Phillies’ infield depth chart and think serious at bats are a long way off. If the Phillies were in a different position, and clearly still a year away from being serious about contending, I would kind of get that. But their recent moves, and their manager’s unbridled praise for Kingery, makes me extremely bullish on the prospect of him making the club either out of Spring Training or immediately after the April 13th cutoff for extending team control another season. From there I think Kingery will earn a starting gig by mid-May and be a perennial 25/25 threat for years to come. Use a late round draft pick on him and you won’t be sorry.