PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — Scott Kingery, for the second year in a row, felt a bit worn at the end of last season. The weight he gained in the offseason had whittled away. Kingery felt gassed by the fifth inning.
He tried to address it this offseason and came to spring training weighing roughly the same but with an added emphasis on lean muscle. Manager Gabe Kapler, deeply passionate about fitness and health, faced the same struggles during his playing career. And he offered Kingery some advice when he arrived at camp.
"Probably for a baseball player, you don't want to be as lean because you have so many games and you're constantly moving," Kingery said Kapler told him. "So right now I'm trying to do whatever I can to fatten myself up a little bit. Just trying to get like a thin layer of fat over my whole body. Kapler said bacon. So I'm like, 'All right. Yeah. I can do that.'"
This will likely be the longest season of Kingery's career, and his ability to stay strong for a full season will be tested more than ever before. He will reach the majors as early as the middle of April and the schedule will stretch a month later than the minor leagues.
Before Kingery arrives, the Phillies will have to find a place for him to play. They have an everyday player at all four infield positions and an abundance of outfielders. A player could be moved or Kapler could be creative, bouncing Kingery around the diamond and finding him playing time. Kapler said Kingery can handle all four infield positions and center field.
"I don't know how this all plays out, but what I can tell you is that his mind-set is the right mind-set, which is 'I'm a major league player right this minute.' And that's the only way we can all think about it," Kapler said. "It's very similar to the way we think about winning every baseball game. You're not going to win 162, but you think about winning every baseball game. Scott Kingery has to be thinking about himself as a major leaguer today and going forward. And he should be. He's clearly that level of talented."
That level of talent showed Friday when Kingery lifted a fastball to right field for an opposite-field home run. It was his third homer this week. An inning earlier, he dived to his right with a full extension and made a fantastic play to grab a sharp grounder up the middle. The second baseman bounced back to his feet and threw out the runner at first. Kingery was playing deep in the hole and shading toward first. He took a few steps before realizing he might have a chance if he dived. He was right.
"I don't know how many other, if any, second basemen make that play," Kapler said. "Obviously, other guys will drive the ball out of the ballpark to right field and have great at-bats and act like they've been there for a long time. There are very few if any second baseman that can make that play, get that jump, have that extension, have the composure and wherewithal to get up and make that throw. That floored us all. The dugout was sort of open-mouthed. It was, 'Whoa, what just happened?' "
Kingery worked in the winter at the same Arizona facility that was used in the past by Chase Utley and Donovan McNabb. He focused on strengthening his legs as he builds his swing on his back legs. His surprising power comes from his strong lower half. He wanted to be explosive, so he did broad jumps and box jumps. The Phillies measured his vertical leap last month at 34 1/2 inches, the second highest in camp behind Roman Quinn's. Kingery felt strong. He just needed some fat to burn during what is shaping up to be a long season.