Phillies Option Kingery and Romero; Draw Closer to Opening Day Roster

Opening Day’s upcoming roster crunch created a number of new victims for the Philadelphia Phillies clubhouse on Sunday, most notably super utilityman Scott Kingery and left-handed pitcher Jojo Romero. Both have been optioned to Triple A Lehigh Valley.

Kingery’s fall from not only highly touted but well-paid prospect in 2018 to missing out on the Opening Day club in 2020 has been a slow, and gradual drop off determined by several mishaps. Kingery was so well thought of by the Phillies previous regime that they signed him to a preemptive 6-year, $24 million deal with multiple club options coming after those first six years, all before he played a single Major League inning. Kingery showed out in Spring Training of 2018 before having an admittedly poor rookie season at the plate at age 24 with an OPS+ of just 61 and average exit velocity that put him in the bottom 8% of the league. The Phillies would remain committed to their prospect though, playing him in 147 games and bringing him back in a similar role for 2019.

That next season would see him get off to a piping hot start, and it seemed that the youngster was soon hitting his stride. He posted a .406 batting average in April, along with a 1.176 OPS. His numbers would diminish but hold strong for the entire first half, batting .292 with 11 homers, but he would struggle in the dog days of summer. Despite the torrid rate that he hit at in the early parts of the season, Kingery would finish 2019 with a .258 average and an OPS+ just barely above average at 101. Still, he had provided speed, baserunning and played multiple positions, all told, he was worth 2.8 WAR. There was reason to feel good about Kingery’s progress.

The good vibes ended though in 2020 with a COVID diagnosis in June that zapped him of energy as well as two of his senses. Kingery would miss the early parts of summer camp and some combination of playing catchup, possible aftereffects of the disease and some bad luck would see him post the worst numbers of his short career. A .159 average would ensue (same as his Spring Training numbers for this year) and Kingery was worth -0.6 WAR in just 36 games played, but his Barrel% of 6.5% wasn’t atrocious, and was in fact in the top 30% of the league (minimum 50 PAs), similar to names like Ozzie Albies and Ke’Bryan Hayes. Perhaps 2020 was an aberration.

And that’s what makes Sunday’s announcement most disappointing. Despite all the perceived upside, currently it is just not enough to house Kingery on the Phillies 26-man roster after being the perceived logical choice to patrol centerfield coming into this spring. At one point, it didn’t seem like a matter of if Kingery would be in the Opening Day lineup, but just where he would appear on the field. The re-signing of Didi Gregorius seemingly cemented Kingery’s versatile glove to appear in center rather than shortstop. We now know neither will be the case.

The starting centerfielder race still appears to have three participants between the controversial Odubel Herrera, speedy Roman Quinn, and strong spring performer Adam Haseley.

Herrera is a non-roster invitee playing his first pro games since May 2019 after a domestic violence arrest and subsequent suspension by MLB ended his season. He did not play in 2020 at all. The Phillies have given him a long look this spring. He has had more Spring Training plate appearances than any other member of the Phils likely both for the sake of his own timing and Philadelphia’s decision-making.

Quinn played in 41 games in the shortened 2020 season for the Phillies and enters his 5th year as a pro in 2021. He only hit .213 last season but stole 12 bases. He has 35 steals in his career while only getting caught 5 times. He rates as an above average fielder in center, worth 5 Outs Above Average in just 44 games in 2019. Quinn is also out of options, which could play a factor in his roster status.

Lastly is Haseley, who has hit for a .833 OPS this spring from the left side of the plate. At just 25, he is the youngest of the remaining group. His offensive numbers in 2020 were much better than Quinn while still pedestrian, slashing .278/.348/.342. He didn’t homer in 92 plate appearances. Still, his hot bat right now could make him a viable option for the Opening Day roster dependent on if the Phillies have the stomach to waive Quinn or if the clubhouse or organization just isn’t comfortable bringing Herrera back into the fold full-time. Haseley has certainly helped himself this spring.

As stated, Jojo Romero was also optioned to Triple A on Sunday. The lefty pitched well in a bullpen role in camp, putting up a 1.04 ERA in 8 2/3 innings pitched. He had 8 strikeouts and 4 walks in those innings.

Romero had pitched in a relief capacity for the Phillies in 2020 and was needed to bring aid to one of the worst bullpens in baseball. A 7.59 ERA in 10 2/3 innings wasn’t supremely helpful, to say the least, but that number was somewhat misleading as Romero’s FIP was a much less shocking 3.66. Coupled with a strong performance this spring that would lead one to think that Romero was a shoo-in for a spot in the bullpen this season, instead Joe Girardi, Dave Dombrowski and company seem to be opting for a slew of right-handed relievers: Vince Velazquez, Sam Coonrod and Dave Hale who appear to be the last men standing. It appears that Jose Alvarado, a newcomer from a trade with the Rays this off-season, will be the lone lefty out of the Philly bullpen on Opening Day.

Romero had been a starter in the minors before 2020, so this demotion may provide an opportunity for him to stretch out his stamina (he pitched no more than 1 inning at a time this spring) and be ready in case one of the members at the end of the Phillies rotation- Matt Moore or Chase Anderson– don’t pan out. Additionally, it’s a long season and many bullpen arms are going to be needed at some point.

Ultimately, it would be a surprise if we don’t see either Kingery or Romero sooner rather than later. Kingery has played at a number of fielding positions and in the event of injury would likely be at the top of the list to replace an injured Philly position player. Additionally, as much as Philadelphia has worked to improve last year’s horrific bullpen if Moore and Anderson don’t falter its likely at some point someone at the back end will. Both players are sure to see plenty of Major League action in 2021, especially if Kingery can figure out his swing and Romero can continue to pitch like he has this spring.

Feature Image: baseballstrength.org

Twitter- @DJLJR26

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