Scott Kingery was once a can’t-miss prospect, but every team in baseball decided Monday to miss on him.
The Phillies outrighted Kingery from their 40-man roster and he will remain with triple-A Lehigh Valley after clearing waivers. Another team would have assumed Kingery’s contract if they claimed him, but the roughly $17.75 million he’s owed through 2023 proved to be a hefty cost for a player who has hit just .229 through 324 major league games.
The Phillies signed Kingery to a six-year, $24-million contract in March of 2018 before he played a major league game. Former manager Gabe Kapler envisioned using Kingery as a super-utility player -- the same way he saw during time with the Dodgers how they employed playoff hero Chris Taylor -- and former general manager Matt Klentak drew up a deal that gave Kingery the most guaranteed money ever for an amateur drafted player who never played in the major leagues.
The Phillies thought it was a crafty way to get their top prospect onto the opening-day roster after a torrid spring training while also buying out his eventual three years of salary arbitration. But Kingery failed to meet the expectations of the deal.
Kingery has since fallen, but he was then the team’s top prospect that spring and had hit 26 minor league homers in the prior season. He played every position in the majors except catcher and first base and never seemed comfortable at the plate.
He hit .233 over his first three seasons, but did not return to the minors until this season. The Phillies started Kingery in Lehigh Valley as a way to continue reworking his swing after six weeks in Florida proved to be insufficient. Kingery had struggled so much since signing the deal that he drastically changed his swing last winter.
But injuries to other players pushed Kingery to the majors before he was ready. He played sparingly with the Phils, went 1-for-19, and suffered a concussion in May. Kingery rehabbed last week in triple A and will now stay with the IronPigs. The Phillies hope everyday at-bats can help him find the swing that once made him one of baseball’s top prospects.
“When you’re trying to go through some changes and make adjustments at the plate, you need those at-bats,” hitting coach Joe Dillon said last week. “You need to fine-tune the timing and basically test what you’re doing. You can do all you want in the cage, but until you test it in a game it’s tough to see how it’s going to play. We can mimic environments in the cage and game speed, but there’s no emotion to it. You have to perform up here and that’s the best testing ground for it. Getting regular at-bats is going to be great for him.”
Kingery, Kapler said three years ago, is “the kind of guy you make an investment in.” He would be a leader, Kapler said, and play for the Phillies for “years and years to come.” The fans, Klentak said, “are going to love this guy.” His style of play, the GM said, was made for Philadelphia.
It was easy three years ago to dream about who Kingery would become. But those dreams never materialized. Kingery, based on every team’s actions Monday, is a long way from his days as a can’t-miss prospect.
“The results haven’t been good, but he just needs to get going and get his timing and he’ll be fine,” Dillon said.