DUNEDIN, Fla. — Bryson Stott’s a comer. Let’s hope the Phillies learn from their mistakes.
Scott Kingery had a great spring in 2018. Just before his 24th birthday, despite spending just 63 games at triple A, Kingery made the major-league club — then played six positions in his first six major-league games. He went from third base to shortstop to left field, back to third, then back to short, and, finally out to right field, all in the first five games. He didn’t play second base, his natural position, until the sixth game, then spent just five innings at second. In fact, in his four big-league seasons, Kingery made just 34 of his 267 starts at second base.
Kingery now is 27, and he’s back in the minors, trying to find the form that once made him the Phillies’ top prospect.
Stott turned 24 in October. He’s the Phillies’ top prospect: a 6-foot-3, 200-pound shortstop who hits from the left side for both average and power. He’s having a great spring training. He hit his first homer of the spring Sunday afternoon, a glimpse at his power. Last year Stott hit .299 with a .876 OPS and 16 home runs in 112 minor-league games between class A and triple A.
Like Kingery in 2018, he has checked every box. He looks ready for the big leagues.
“He hasn’t showed us anything [where] he’s not,” said manager Joe Girardi.
But at what cost?
Stott started at third base for the Phillies on Sunday for the first time with the big-league club. The Phillies plan to start him at third at least twice more. Incumbent starter Alec Bohm struggled in 2021, his second big-league season, and he’s 2-for-16 with a .222 on-base percentage in six spring games. Does this mean Stott might be the third baseman when Opening Day arrives April 8?
“It’s something we’re going to look at,” said Girardi
The Phillies also are considering using Stott as a super-utility player. You know, like they did with Kingery.
“It could be all over the place,” Girardi said. “Two days here. Two days there.”
No. Just, no.
If Didi Gregorius is going to be your shortstop then move Stott to third and just leave him there. The major leagues are too demanding to ask a rookie to hopscotch positions, especially on a team positioned to win now. Have we learned nothing?
This feels like five years ago.
Looking back is like living this moment.
Kingery had a first-time manager in Gabe Kapler, a first-time general manager in Matt Klentak, an absentee president in Andy MacPhail, and an owner, John Middleton, desperate to sell a moribund product. Incredibly, they gave Kingery a $23 million contract before he ever saw a big-league pitch. They still owe him at least $15 million, including a $1 million buyout in 2024. They paid him like a prince, then treated him like a pauper.
The Phillies’ decision-makers don’t have the time to nurture, either. Girardi is in a contract season since president Dave Dombrowski has declined to pick up his option. Dombrowski’s feet are in the fire, too. Last week he convinced Middleton to exceed the luxury tax for the first time in franchise history when he added Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos to a roster built around MVP Bryce Harper and Cy Young runner-up Zack Wheeler.
The Phillies haven’t felt urgency like this since the 1970s.
Girardi said that concerns about service time would not influence the decision of whether to keep Stott in the majors, because he plans to take the “best player,” and that Stott is adding value to himself with every inning spent away from shortstop.
“Flexibility is really important. Might even play him at second one day,” Girardi said. “I want flexibility … because I’m not sure exactly how we’re going to go.”
Flexibility is important for Ronald Torreyes. Bryson Stott doesn’t need flexibility. He needs consistency.
At any rate, it appears that the Phillies are focused on making him a viable third baseman.
Last weekend, at the half field next to the ballpark, infield coach Bobby Dickerson wore Stott out.
During the thirty-minute Saturday morning session, Dickerson emphasized deepening Stott’s pre-pitch crouch, then drilled into him the footwork and strategies of a third baseman versus a shortstop. They’re turning his world upside down.
“When you’re playing short, your angles are like an upside-down V, and you’re going toward home plate,” Stott explained. “When you’re playing third, it’s like a regular V, and you’ve got to go back.”
He practiced backhands and short hops. Dickerson put a bucket 20 feet to Stott’s left then hit ground balls to the left of the bucket to make Stott retreat into that hole; once, Dickerson’s ground ball nicked the lip of the bucket and almost took off Stott’s head. Stott practiced throws to first base on a long hop, practiced charging nubbers and bunts, and, by the end, his arm was spent.
On Sunday, Dickerson kept him out there for an hour.
“It was a long day,” Stott said. “But just getting in enough work to be able to go over there and play … if I need to throw 1,000 balls over there every day to get in that lineup, I’ll do it.”
Kingery was just as willing.
Stott looked adequate in both sessions with Dickerson, and that’s pretty much all Girardi has to go on, since his only action Sunday was a ground ball when he was playing in the shortstop spot during a shift. He’s only had nine starts at third base since the Phillies drafted him 14th overall in 2019.
To their credit, the Phillies remain resolute that Stott is their shortstop of the future. Gregorious is in the final year of his contract. And even if Stott doesn’t make the major-league roster out of spring training, these starts at third might speed him to the majors.
“We see him as a shortstop. Sometimes, you have needs,” Girardi said. “Sometimes, a guy can get hurt, and [the position of need] might not be your natural position. But if you’ve moved around, it could be really helpful.”
And no, the Phils won’t keep Stott as a bench player: “You’re not going to take a guy like a Stott [if] he’s not going to play a lot,” Girardi said. “That makes no sense.”
What’s next, Joe? “He’s back at short tomorrow.”
Well, that makes no sense, either.