ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Nearly three hours before the game, Scott Kingery is standing in the infield receiving tips from two of the Phillies’ roving fielding instructors. In fact, the former Arizona Wildcats standout is still in his street clothes.
For the past three months, Kingery has been receiving plenty of attention with a meteoric rise quicker than any prospect in the Phillies organization. He began the season at Double-A Reading and began an offensive assault that saw him lead the Eastern League in homers and RBIs as well as nearing the top of several other categories. He hit .313 there with a ,379 on-base percentage and .987 OPS in 69 games.
Kingery celebrated his recent promotion to Triple-A Lehigh Valley by belting a homer in each of his first three games. The second baseman also showed his dexterity and quickness in the field, making a backpeddling, diving catch on a sinking line drive in short right field in his first game.
Kingery is hitting .313 with 22 home runs and 52 home runs in time with two affiliates this season. The Phoenix product became the first player in the minors or majors to reach the 20- homer, 20-stolen base club. He is, in fact, one of baseball’s elite base-stealing prospects; he’s been thrown out just 11 times in three pro seasons.
On Sunday, he’ll take part in the All-Star Futures Game at Marlins Park in Miami, Florida. Kingery will play for the United States against an international team that includes Sahuaro High School product Alex Verdugo, now a prized Dodgers prospect. Pitcher Michael Kopech, a onetime UA commit who’s now among the White Sox’s top prospects, will also play for the Americans.
“When I heard I was chosen to go to the Futures Game, I was really excited,” Kingery said of his selection. “That’s one of the highest honors that you can have in minor league baseball. For me to have the opportunity to go out and represent the Phillies and play next to the talent there, it will be an incredible experience.
“I played in the Florida State League All-Star Game last year, but this is the top-level players from every league in the minors. It’s something special and it will be a fun time there.”
Kingery recalled how his 40-game stint at Double-A last season helped him adjust and relate to the rigors of upper-level, minor league baseball. He added 10 pounds to his 5-10, 170-pound frame after experiencing fatigue from 131 games with two different teams last year. He finished with an overall .281 average with five homers, 46 RBIs, and 30 stolen bases.
“It did help playing at Double-A because I knew what to expect this year,” said Kingery. “My body was a little bit run down at the end of last season. I knew I could do better than I did last year. It gave me more motivation to come into the next season doing what I knew I could.”
Kingery then played in the Arizona Fall League, gaining more at-bats against touted pitching prospects.
“That was a good experience, but I struggled a little bit,” said Kingery. “For me after that, it was about getting my body back in shape and putting on some weight. I wanted to come into the year and stay at a healthy playing weight the whole season. I think I am at a good spot and not have my body break down.”
Kingery credits his added weight and some tweaks with his swing as major factors in his power surge. He sees himself as a line-drive, doubles hitter, collecting 36 last season. This year, Kingery has hit a home run every 14.68 at-bats. Entering this season, he had eight round-trippers.
“At the rate the home runs are sneaking out, it’s incredible,” noted Kingery. “I didn’t think that was going to happen. I guess it was the combination of some things to my swing and work in the weight room.
“Last year, I hit 30-something doubles and that’s the kind of player I am. But I can’t complain about it. As I continue to play, I think I’ll be more of a doubles and gap-to-gap guy rather than a home run hitter. For right now, I’ll take it.”
Lehigh Valley manager Dusty Wathan has high expectations for Kingery, the Phillies’ second-round pick in 2015.
“You could see all the tools are there,” said Wathan, who managed him at Reading last year. “He can run and has all the tools at second base. He really emerged last year and we knew he would have a strong season this year for us.
“He is an aggressive player who brings energy to the lineup. Yet, he has a very calm demeanor that helps him. He appears to be a complete player in all phases.”
One veteran scout’s take on Kingery includes the words “very even-keeled.”
“He has a quick bat and has discovered some power. Kingery also has a good eye on the base paths and is solid in the field,” the scout said. “If he continues, he’ll be to the majors very soon.”
With his elevated play, Kingery has batted in all three top positions in the order this year. He anticipates staying in the leadoff role at Lehigh Valley.
“I have been a leadoff hitter my whole life,” said Kingery. “It is the most comfortable spot for me. You see some different stuff at different spots. At the three hole, I have had guys on base and had the opportunities to get more RBIs. It is a different job that I have to do.
“When I am hitting leadoff, I am trying to get on base. There have been a few adjustments that I have had to make at each different spot. In Reading, I was getting a lot of first-pitch fastballs at the start of the season and I was hitting them and getting on base. As the season progressed, I was seeing more fastballs out of the zone and more off-speed pitches.
“With the off-speed pitches, I began to hit to the opposite field more. It started to work out.”
For Kingery, it is a matter of appreciating and enjoying the ride to the top.
“I just want to go out and play and try not to think about everything,” added Kingery. “I feel fortunate to be where I am and do whatever I can.”