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Kingery embracing Mr. Versatility role as rookie

Three ex-players who were multi-position regulars weigh in on what job entails
MLB.com @ToddZolecki

PHILADELPHIA -- The uniqueness is not lost on Scott Kingery.

He moved from right field to center field in the top of the eighth inning on April 24 at Citizens Bank Park. Nobody realized it at the time, but it made him the first player to play six positions in his first 20 career games since Ryan Flaherty did so in 2012.

PHILADELPHIA -- The uniqueness is not lost on Scott Kingery.

He moved from right field to center field in the top of the eighth inning on April 24 at Citizens Bank Park. Nobody realized it at the time, but it made him the first player to play six positions in his first 20 career games since Ryan Flaherty did so in 2012.

But Kingery, 24, is not a utility player. He is an everyday player who plays everywhere. The rookie is on pace for nearly 500 plate appearances this season, putting him on track to be the first Phillies player to play six or more positions with at least 150 plate appearances since Cookie Rojas in 1967.

If Kingery starts a game in center field -- something that Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said is a possibility -- he will be the 12th player in the Majors since 1965 to start games at second base, third base, shortstop, left field, center field and right field with 400 or more plate appearances. Jose Oquendo started at seven positions for the Cardinals in 1988.

"It's challenging, but it's a fun challenge," Kingery said recently. "It's fun to go to a different position and kind of switch up things. When I think about it, especially rookies, they kind of have a set position. I can't think of too many that play that many positions. I know [Ben] Zobrist does it. I know Chris Taylor does it, but I feel like he's playing maybe a couple positions. It's almost never the same position for me."

J.P. Crawford's recent trip to the disabled list with an injured right forearm gives Kingery a break from the positional shuffle, as he is expected to play mostly shortstop while Crawford is out, and could be back in the lineup for Friday night's series opener against the Nationals after getting hit by a pitch on his right biceps on Tuesday.

Video: CIN@PHI: Kingery throws out Peraza at the plate

Jerry Hairston Jr., Chone Figgins and Mark McLemore are among the few who can relate to Kingery's workload. They are among the 11 players in the past 40-plus seasons to start at those six positions and play nearly every day.

"It's a big deal," McLemore said. "How many guys can do it? Not everybody can. It's not an easy thing to do. You have to have athletic ability. It looks like Kingery has the same ability."

That ability makes Kingery valuable.

"Gabe Kapler knows this, but teams value versatility," Hairston said. "You need rest. You can't take certain supplements anymore. Back in the day, they were able to do that. They have seen that when you rest players, they perform better over the long haul. Players like Kingery have an opportunity to play a lot because he can play four, five, six times a week, which is great."

Does the bat suffer?
Shortly after Kingery signed a six-year, $24 million contract in March, reporters asked Kapler if playing a rookie at multiple positions could hurt him offensively.

Kingery hit .280 with seven doubles, two home runs, 12 RBIs and had an .855 OPS through his first 13 games, temporarily ending those questions. But they have returned, as Kingery has hit .143 with one double, one RBI and a .401 OPS in his past 14 games.

Video: PHI@TB: Kingery laces a three-run double to center

"The routine switches a little bit, which is the only thing I can say about it," said Kingery, who had four hits in his last 13 at-bats entering Friday's game. "But being in the batter's box is 100-percent different than playing in the field. I don't think it affects it too much. I can see how having a certain set routine might be a little helpful, but for the most part, I don't think it's really affecting it."

Hairston, McLemore and Figgins generally believe a correlation between a player's performance at the plate and moving around the field is overstated. The Yankees acquired Hairston in July 2009 because he not only could play multiple positions, but because he could hit. McLemore had the best offensive season of his career with the Mariners in 2001, posting a .790 OPS. Figgins played so well with the Angels in 2004 and 2005 that he received American League Most Valuable Player votes.

Of course, they were not rookies.

"It can bother you at the plate, if you allow it to," Hairston said.

"It has the potential to do that," McLemore said. "That's why you typically find a veteran guy who can separate that as opposed to a younger player. A younger player just getting to the big leagues, he's really trying to establish himself, so there's an awful lot that's going on in his mind from day to day, game to game. But if he's strong enough mentally, it shouldn't be a problem."

Interestingly, Figgins thought that playing multiple positions helped him offensively.

"It's one thing that helps you get your mind off hitting," he said. "If you're at the same position every night, you're thinking about struggling. If you're moving around, you're not thinking about that. You're thinking about catching the ball or getting the ball to the infield or making a good solid throw to third base. You're not really focused on your hitting. It kind of balances itself out because you're not concentrating on one thing."

Video: Take a look back at the career of Chone Figgins

Forget those Gold Gloves and All-Star Games
If there is a downside to playing multiple positions, it's that those players can be overlooked for All-Star teams and postseason awards. Yes, Kris Bryant plays multiple positions and made the National League All-Star team in 2015 and 2016, but he's primarily a third baseman who occasionally plays elsewhere. Kingery has started at third base and shortstop seven times each. He has started at second base, left field and right field a combined seven times.

Is it the greatest tragedy in the world? No, but it is a consideration.

"Will you be overlooked as a Gold Glover?" Hairston said. "Yeah, you will, because you're playing a lot of positions. Will you be overlooked at maybe playing in an All-Star Game? Yeah, you could. I hit .351 in the first half in 2008, but I played a lot of positions."

Video: ARI@MIL Gm1: Hairston makes two great defensive plays

"That's the one hard thing about it," said Figgins, who made the AL All-Star team in 2009. "You would like to achieve those different accolades because you do work hard defensively and you do work hard to put up good numbers. You want to make an All-Star team. When you play different positions, you can't get put into one category, so it ends up hurting you on one end."

Kingery said that hasn't crossed his mind. After all, he is just 27 games into his big league career.

"Right now I'm worried about just playing well where I'm at and finding a spot in the lineup," he said.

It's a mindset
Hairston, McLemore and Figgins each had their own routines to stay sharp defensively, but each shared a similar big-picture philosophy.

If Hairston played shortstop one night, he said, he started his pregame work there, but typically took 25-30 ground balls at third base to work on his hands. He finished his work back at shortstop.

Hairston said he always remembered advice he got from Cal Ripken Jr. when they were teammates in Baltimore from 1998-2001.

"He used to always tell me, never be surprised on a baseball field," Hairston said. "Make sure you practice every situation as you're going through it in your mind, whether you're practicing or on the field. Have every scenario constantly in your mind. That way you can just react. That's how I approached a lot of different positions."

McLemore said he did not worry much about his outfield work. If he was in the infield for a few days, he worked there exclusively. But if he found himself in the outfield for a few days, he made sure to practice in the infield.

"You can get lulled to sleep playing in the outfield," McLemore said. "Then you're back in the infield and a rocket goes right by you."

Video: 2001ALDS Gm5: McLemore drives in two in the 2nd

Figgins said Angels manager Mike Scioscia gave him little notice on where he might play. So he worked everywhere. If Figgins expected to play third base in back-to-back games, he would work at third base the first night. The next night he would spend more time at shortstop, second base or in the outfield.

"He wanted me to be mature to mix it up," Figgins said. "He put it on me, because if I didn't do the job, I wasn't going to play in the big leagues. He told me ahead of schedule to get my work in. He said, 'I'm relying on you, because if you have to go to a position, you have to be prepared.'"

But all three former players said they treated every position like they were the best player to play that position.

"That was the one thing they explained to me," Figgins said. "You're going to move around, but you still have to play like you're a top-tier defender at every position you play. It kind of made it easier to play that position because you weren't thinking, well, I'm just out here for the day, just try to catch the balls hit right at you. It was like, you have to play this like you would have to play your everyday position."

Video: PHI@TB: Kingery discusses his three-RBI performance

Do it
Hairston, Figgins and McLemore said they loved the experience of playing regularly and playing everywhere.

"It really provided me an avenue to play an extra three, four or five years and play on winning teams because I could play a lot of positions," said Hairston, whose Yankees beat the Phillies in the 2009 World Series. "I always look at it as a plus."

"I got to watch some of the best players hit from different positions," Figgins said. "I got to see the game that most players don't get to see. Derek Jeter played shortstop every day. He never got to see a swing from right field or center field or second base. It makes you a better player."

Figgins has seen Kingery play and has been impressed.

"I think he is going to end up being at one position because he's obviously a good player," he said. "He's going to have a long career at that one position, but then when the next wave of really good players comes through, if he wants to continue playing, they're going to be like, 'Oh, well, you can play outfield, you can play shortstop, you can play second.' That's another four years you can tack onto your career right there.

"People don't look at things like that. That's why I try to tell kids in Little League and high school, playing at different positions just makes your resume better. It's like a college degree. If you get a doctorate or a master's, you go to the top tier of being wanted."

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and listen phillies-podcast/id902525259?mt=2">podcast.

Philadelphia Phillies, Scott Kingery