Over the weekend, the Philadelphia Phillies . The deal is worth $24 million guaranteed and it can max out at $65 million if the three club options for 2024-26 are exercised.
The Kingery contract is not unprecedented, but it is still shocking. The Houston Astros signed Jonathan Singleton to an extension before he played an MLB game, though it was a much smaller contract (five years, $10 million). Kingery now has financial security and the Phillies have cost certainty and control over the next nine seasons of his career.
Of course, had Kingery not agreed to the extension, he almost certainly would've started the season in Triple-A and spent enough time in the minors this year to push his free agency back from the 2023-24 offseason to the 2024-25 offseason. Now that he signed the deal, the Phillies have deemed Kingery big league ready. Funny how that works.
Anyway, Kingery's contract is not the first time nor will it be the last time a team tries to sign a player to a long-term extension before he makes his MLB debut. These deals aren't easy to negotiate -- how do you find common ground when the player has no MLB track record? -- but the Kingery deal does create a benchmark for future agreements.
With that in mind, let's look at five other top prospects who are candidates for a long-term extension before they even play an MLB game. To be eligible for this post, a player needs to ...
- Have no MLB experience. Nada. Zip. Zero. That rules out Washington Nationals outfielder Victor Robles, Cleveland Indians catcher Francisco Mejia, and Los Angeles Dodgers right Walker Buehler. They debuted in the show last year.
- Be MLB ready. This is very subjective, so for our purposes, we're going to stick to guys who will start the season in Triple-A or have played there before. That rules out Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and shortstop Bo Bichette. They have yet to play above Single-A ball.
- Not be Ohtani. Los Angeles Angels wunderkind Shohei Ohtani is a special case. MLB will reportedly scrutinize any extension that may appear to be part of a prearranged under-the-table agreement to land Ohtani as a free agent.
Simply put, we're looking for top prospects who are likely to have their service time manipulated in such a way this year that their team nets an extra year of control. Once that extra year is in the bag, the player will make his MLB debut. It happens all the time. A Kingery style extension removes any service time considerations. Here are five candidates for such a deal.
Atlanta Braves: Ronald Acuna Jr.
These players are listed alphabetically, though it is only fitting we're starting with Atlanta Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr., the best prospect in baseball. Acuna destroyed the minors last season, hitting .325/.374/.522 with 21 home runs and 44 stolen bases at three levels, then he went out and hit .432/.519/.727 with four homers and four steals in 16 spring games.
Look at what this young man can do on a baseball field:
Acuna, who is still only 20, has already been reassigned to minor league camp. He'll begin the season back at Triple-A and wait until the Braves are comfortable with his service time standing to call him up.
It should be noted that while Kingery's deal with the Phillies provides a contract framework for the Braves and Acuna, Acuna is in position to demand more guaranteed money. He is widely considered the better prospect -- again, he is the consensus top prospect in baseball -- and he is also nearly four years younger than Kingery. Kingery's $24 million may only be the starting point for negotiations.
Also, keep in mind Acuna did not receive a large signing bonus as an amateur. The Braves signed him for a mere $100,000 back in 2014. Going through arbitration and free agency will surely be very lucrative if Acuna turns into the player everyone thinks he can become, but he also might jump at the guaranteed millions right now. He doesn't have a big signing bonus to fall back on.
Tampa Bay Rays: SS Willy Adames
The Tampa Bay Rays are such a perfect team for a pre-MLB debut extension that I'm surprised they haven't handed one out yet. They came close with Evan Longoria -- he inked a long-term deal just days into his big league career.
Infielder Willy Adames, who came over from the Detroit Tigers in the David Price trade a few years back, is Tampa Bay's top position player prospect and shortstop of the future. If he's not their shortstop of the future, he's their second baseman of the future. Scouts are a little split on Adames' glove, but he can hit.
Last season the 22-year-old Adames authored a .277/.360/.415 batting line with 30 doubles and 11 home runs in 130 Triple-A games, and in a hypothetical world where service time doesn't matter, that would've earned him a spot on the Opening Day roster. Instead, Adames is slated to return to Triple-A to start the season, even after hitting .364/.400/.727 in 10 games this spring.
According to Baseball America, Adames is the 19th best prospect in baseball and Kingery is 31st, plus Adames is about a year and a half younger than Kingery. The Rays may have to tack a few million on to Kingery's $24 million guarantee to get Adames' attention.
Tampa Bay Rays: 1B/OF Jake Bauers
Another Rays prospect. First baseman/outfielder Jake Bauers was part of the big Wil Myers deal with the San Diego Padres a few years ago, and he hit .263/.368/.412 with 31 doubles, 13 home runs, and 20 stolen bases in 132 Triple-A games last year. He had a not so great spring though, hitting .240/.296/.400 in 10 games.
Bauers is not as highly regarded as Kingery or Adames -- Baseball America ranks him as the 45th best prospect in baseball (which is still really good!) -- mostly because first basemen/corner outfielders without big power potential usually aren't considered tippy top prospects. Still, there is thump in his bat ...
... and the Rays surely view him as part of their long-term future, either at first base or in the outfield.
In that hypothetical world where service time doesn't matter, Adames and Bauer would be part of Tampa's Opening Day infield. That is not reality though. Bauer is still very good, however, and an extension in Kingery range would presumably help land him on the Opening Day roster.
Cincinnati Reds: IF Nick Senzel
The Cincinnati Reds , meaning top prospect -- and natural third baseman -- Nick Senzel will go Triple-A this season and learn second base. Senzel did play some second base in college, so it won't be a completely new experience to him.
Here's what Senzel had to say about the move to MLB.com's Mark Sheldon:
"I just wanted to know where I would play every day in Louisville. I didn't want to be bouncing around, and they didn't want me bouncing around, either. I'll be at second base, and that's what it is."
"It'll be another transition, but I don't think it'll be as dramatic as the one from third to short," Senzel said. "It'll be a pretty smooth transition."
Although he has yet to play above Double-A, the 22-year-old Senzel is widely considered big league ready with the bat. He put up a .321/.391/.514 batting line with 40 doubles and 14 home runs in 119 games split between High Class-A and Double-A last year, and he is one of the best pure hitters in the minors. Baseball America ranks him as the seventh best prospect in the game.
The whole second base thing throws a wrench into any extension/Opening Day roster plans. Sure, he might be able to hit in the show right now, but Senzel has to learn a new position and that is not something the Reds want him to do at the big league level. Let him do it in Triple-A, in games that don't count, and see how it works. Chances are it'll go fine, but we won't know for sure until Senzel actually does it.
Given his prospect ranking and the fact he's a year younger, the Kingery extension is probably a little light for Senzel, should the Reds look to go that route. But again, the fact he has to learn a new possible likely means the Reds are not in a rush to sign him long-term.
New York Yankees: IF Gleyber Torres
If not for an awkward slide into home plate last year, infielder Gleyber Torres almost certainly would've made his MLB debut with the New York Yankees in the second half. Instead, that awkward slide resulted in a torn elbow ligament in his left (non-throwing) elbow, necessitating season-ending Tommy John surgery.
Here is the slide and the freak injury:
Torres, who turned 21 over the winter, completed his Tommy John surgery rehab and was a full participant in spring training, though it didn't go that well: .219/.286/.313 in 13 games.
That said, Torres remains a top prospect -- Baseball America ranks him as the game's sixth best prospect -- after hitting .287/.383/.480 with 14 doubles and seven homers in 55 games split between Double-A and Triple-A prior to the injury last year. He is a shortstop by trade, but with Didi Gregorius entrenched at shortstop in the Bronx, Torres will now move over to second base.
Similar to other prospects in this post, Torres is younger and ranked considerably higher than Kingery as a prospect, meaning his $24 million contract probably isn't the best starting point for negotiations from the team's perspective. Torres is coming off a major injury though, and he's changing positions. The Yankees would presumably want to see him get back to being the player he was before the injury before signing him long-term.
All five prospects in this post are position players and that is no coincidence. Pitchers carry much more injury risk than position players, and historically, teams wait longer to sign pitchers long-term to mitigate risk. In fact, the top pitching prospect candidate for a pre-MLB debut extension this year would've been Rays righty Brent Honeywell. .
So far Singleton and Kingery are the only prospects to sign long-term contracts prior to making their big league debuts, but baseball is a copycat sport, and it stands to reason other MLB teams will soon follow suit and try to lock up their top prospects as early as possible. Acuna, Adames, Bauer, Senzel, and Torres currently stand out as the best candidates for a similar contract extension prior to Opening Day.