Two weeks into the Phillies season, one thing has become clear: Scott Kingery is a serious candidate for National League rookie of the year. In fact, it’s not a stretch to consider him the leading candidate, especially if you value a guy who can play six positions and already has started games at four of them.
“When we have this [lineup] puzzle to put together, it’s incredibly valuable to have one guy that can do it all,” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said. “And he can hit in several different spots in the lineup, and you’ve seen that as well.”
In addition to his versatility in the field, Kingery has hit second, third, fifth, and sixth in the batting order, pretty prominent positions for a rookie. If the offensive numbers are close to equal when it comes time for the National League rookie-of-the-year voting, then Kingery’s versatility should tilt the award in his favor.
It’s difficult enough just to be a rookie in the big leagues, let alone having to wear so many gloves. Kingery, 23, has embraced it all.
“I think it’s great,” he said. “It’s challenging. It gives me a chance to learn new things. I’m learning on the go, and more game experience at each position is helping make it feel more natural. Wherever they want me to play, I’m happy to do it.”
Kapler talked recently about how well Ben Zobrist played the jack-of-all-trades role for Tampa Bay when the two were Rays teammates in 2009 and 2010. By then, however, Zobrist was already a five-year veteran. He did not play anywhere but shortstop his first two seasons in the big leagues.
Zobrist “just had a lot of gloves,” Kapler said. “If he was playing left field that day or right field that day, he would just go take his balls there. If he was playing second, he’d go take ground balls at second. He was kind of like Scotty in that he was athletic, although he’s not maybe as agile as Scotty is.”
Kapler said those words before Wednesday night’s game against the Cincinnati Reds. That day, the manager gave Kingery his first career start in left field. Before the game, the 23-year-old rookie worked in left field with Sam Fuld, the team’s major-league player information coordinator. When the two finished, Fuld told Kapler that Kingery was a natural.
Kingery saved a run in that game by throwing out Jose Peraza at the plate in the sixth inning. Of course, he also ended the game that night with a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 12th inning. That was the night after he hit his first grand slam, which was the night after he hit his first career home run.
“I mean it has been crazy,” Kingery said. “I think that’s the only way to put it because I haven’t had time to sit back and kind of look at it and say I hit my first home run and a walk-off and stuff like that. What’s more important is we had a really good homestand.”
Heading into the weekend, only two National League rookies have better offensive numbers than Kingery, and they are both third basemen. (One-position players are so ho-hum.)
Pittsburgh’s Colin Moran, who is with his third team after being traded from Houston for Gerrit Cole in the offseason, is hitting .343 with two doubles, a home run, and eight RBIs. Miami’s Brian Anderson, a third-round pick in 2014, is batting .295 with four doubles, one home run, and nine RBIs. Kingery entered Friday’s game at Tampa Bay hitting .250 with three doubles, two home runs, seven RBIs, and zero errors at five positions.
In all likelihood, Kingery’s biggest competition for the NL rookie award has not yet reached the big leagues.
Atlanta outfielder Ronald Acuna, the top minor-league prospect according to Baseball America, could join the Braves as soon as Monday when the Phillies open a series at SunTrust Park. But the start to his big-league career could also be delayed by a slow start at triple-A Gwinnett. He is 3 for 27.
Cincinnati third baseman Nick Senzel, the second overall pick in 2016, could also make a run at the rookie award, but he, too, was off to a slow start at triple-A Louisville, hitting just .207 (6 for 29) through seven games.
Kingery, meanwhile, is off to a terrific start in the majors and has established himself as a serious rookie-of-the-year candidate. The Phillies’ last rookie of the year was Ryan Howard in 2005. Before that, it was Scott Rolen in 1997, the same year that the Sixers’ Allen Iverson was named NBA rookie of the year. It’s possible another kid named Scott and another 76ers player (Ben Simmons) could repeat that rookie feat from 21 years ago.