Phillies' Scott Kingery understands why he'll start in triple A

DUNEDIN, Fla. — Scott Kingery picked the brains of veteran teammates this spring, hoping to find some clarification about baseball’s complicated roster rules. The Phillies second-base prospect learned everything he could about Super Twos and service time. And Kingery gleaned enough knowledge to know that his homer on Wednesday — his second in three days — did little to change the fact that he will start the season at triple-A.

Kingery, who turns 24 in April, will be stashed in Lehigh Valley for at least the season’s first few weeks, a move that would delay his eligibility for free agency until after the 2024 season instead of 2023. It’s an easy decision for the Phillies, no matter how many homers Kingery hits this spring. The move can also be justified. There is not an everyday job waiting for Kingery at the majors and he showed last season at triple-A that there is still progress left to make.

“I understand, you have the business side of it, how it works where [the team gets] an extra year of control,” Kingery said after the Phillies fell to Toronto, 7-1. “I understand all that stuff. Obviously, I’ll never think negatively about that. I’ll try to think positively and say I’ll get my time in the minors, where I ended the year. I had some struggles a little bit toward the end, so why not go there and fine-tune them for a little while and see if I can get better at that so I can be even better and bring that with me for when I finally do get called up.”

[David Murphy: Keeping Kingery down on the farm is the best play]

Kingery slashed .304/.359/.530 and hit 26 homers in 543 at-bats between double A and triple A. His strikeout rate spiked in the final month of the season and his walk rate dipped. It is not enough to be alarmed, but it is something for him to work on when he arrives in Allentown.

“I’ve been a free swinger and my approach at the plate sometimes I think gets too big and I swing out of the zone,” Kingery said. “I think that’s something over time, more experience at each level will always improve. So for me, the more reps I get, the more pitchers I see, it’ll be better. I think that’s one thing that can be better and create more opportunities for me to be on base.”

Kingery felt uncomfortable at the plate during the first week of Grapefruit League games, causing him to alter his mechanics and change how he loads his swing. He tried it for the first time on Monday night in Tampa and homered against the Yankees. His tuned-up swing produced another homer Wednesday and Kingery said the swing “felt really good.” He turned heads last spring in a short stay in major-league camp and looks to be impressing again. But Kingery already knows how camp will end.

Said manager Gabe Kapler: “I think if he was thinking about making the team, if he had no pressure on him, if he was in double-A, if he was in the World Series, you’d see the same thing out of Scott Kingery. The same exact approach to the game. The talent would still shine. He’s just got that unique special makeup that you don’t find very often. I do think he’s a smart kid and he understands a lot of what’s going on around him. Nothing discourages him. He’s got laser-sharp focus on the step right in front of him and that is the at-bat or the play in the field. He just wants an opportunity to shine and we’re giving him an opportunity to shine and he’s shining.”

Leiter’s striking outing

Mark Leiter impressed with a strong splitter and good command of his fastball as he struck out five batters in two innings. He could be used in more high-leverage spots than the ones he pitched in last year.

“No one-trick pony,” Kapler said. “Incredibly competitive. In some ways, you say, ‘I wish we could plug that mentality into position players,’ because he’s so fiery and tenacious. He’s such a pleasure.”

Extra bases

Vince Velasquez made his first start of spring and displayed a strong fastball but was hit hard in the second inning. “He was absolutely electric,” Kapler said. … Nick Pivetta will pitch for the Phillies on Thursday against CC Sabathia and the Yankees.