CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Four years have passed since the magical spring of Scotty Jetpax.
The line drives, the speed, the glove. Scott Kingery captured the imagination of the Phillies and their fans in the spring of 2018. It wasn't just the fans begging the Phils to put Kingery on the Opening Day roster, former manager Gabe Kapler did, too. The front office listened. Kingery signed a six-year, $24 million contract before he ever played an inning in the big leagues.
Everybody was hyped. But Kingery’s first three years in the big leagues have been uneven at best.
He thinks he knows why.
“You put a little pressure on yourself when you get that deal,” Kingery said Monday at Spectrum Field. “You can either say, ‘OK, I got the deal, I'm good.’ Then you just go play. Or you can say, ‘Now, I have to live up to what I was paid for.’ And put a little pressure on yourself. Sometimes that can get you in a little trouble.
“I honestly got away from what my profile was coming up through the Minors. I don’t know whether that was because I was bouncing around so much and I was like, ‘I have to start hitting homers. I’m an outfielder, I have to hit homers. I have to do this.’ But I wanted to get back to when I was just athletic. Using my athletic ability and taking extra bases. Hitting doubles in the gap. Running. Stuff like that.”
Kingery wants to be Scotty Jetpax again.
The Phillies do, too.
“Being Jetpax!” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said. “Yes, that's what we want. We want Jetpax.”
Jetpax’s opportunity will be in center field, where he will compete with Adam Haseley, Roman Quinn and possibly Odúbel Herrera. Kingery is in the outfield mix because Jean Segura will be the everyday second baseman. Segura played well there last season. Kingery, meanwhile, hit .159 with three home runs, six RBIs and a .511 OPS. It was a forgettable follow-up to an encouraging 2019 in which he hit .258 with 19 home runs, 55 RBIs and a .788 OPS.
Kingery stumbled for multiple reasons. He got COVID-19 last summer, and he was slow to recover. He experienced shortness of breath, which he said is mostly no longer an issue.
“The first time I hit a double last year, I got to second base and had my hands on my knees,” Kingery said. “Like, ‘Wow, I haven't felt this way ever.’ If I ran really hard, like sprint down to first base, it would take me a couple of pitches to get my breath back.”
He developed lower-back issues, which caused him to change his swing. The changes caused shoulder problems. MRI exams revealed labrum issues, but he rehabbed in the offseason and said he is healthy.
A Phillies staff member told Kingery that his first steps in the outfield and infield had slowed. He thought about it and realized he needed an extra moment to pick up the ball when it left the bat. He got contacts over the winter.
“It just makes everything crisper,” Kingery said.
But, perhaps most important, Kingery thought he got too big.
He entered last Spring Training at 194 pounds. He thought he needed to be bigger to stay stronger throughout the season. The extra weight worked against him.
He arrived this spring at 185 pounds.
“It’s more natural weight,” Kingery said. “Rather than work on max reps and trying to be as strong as possible, it's more about flexibility, to get back to how my game was. Quick-twitch, fast, run the bases well. Feel good when you dive. I felt like I was falling last year rather than gliding. So it's good to get down a little bit in weight and back to a natural one.
“As long as I'm fluid and athletic, that's where I should be.”
Center field should allow Kingery to showcase his athleticism. But he hopes to show it offensively, too. He bunted a lot in the Minor Leagues. Drag bunts. Push bunts. He stopped once he got to the Majors. If he gets back to it and stops swinging so hard -- something else he felt he did too much -- he believes he can hit his stride.
He would not be the first big leaguer to find himself four or more years into his career. Players like José Bautista, Josh Donaldson, J.D. Martinez and Justin Turner took years to develop.
“I think it is a big year just because this is getting toward the tail end [of his contract],” Kingery said. “I should be solidified as what type of player I am. But right now it's all over the place. It's not the profile that got me through the Minors. So I think this is a big year to get back to those roots. Really get back to my style of play and show how that plays on a Major League field.”