Along with our recent flurry of stories surrounding many of the prospects on the Dodgers‘ farm came plenty of conversations from several of our regular readers.
Some of the most notable chatter was about outfielder Jeren Kendall, who has been ranked in the organization’s Top 10 since his earliest days in the system.
While many believed that his approach at the plate would need some adjusting as a professional, those familiar with Kendall never guessed that he would be struggling as much as he is, especially when playing every day in the pitcher-friendly confines of the Cal League last year.
For High-A Rancho Cucamonga in 2018, Kendall hit just .215/.300/.356 over 438 AB, causing a bit of stirring from fans who expected a lot more from the Vanderbilt product. He did hit 12 home runs and 20 doubles though, suggesting that there’s still a hint of power present in his swing. However, 158 punchouts and a .656 OPS isn’t anything to write home about considering his current level and how highly he’s regarded.
Thanks to our own Jeff D., we found a recent report from Bill Plunkett and Baseball America indicating that Kendall has indeed been addressing some of the holes in his swing over the winter. According to the story, the 23-year-old Florida native has spent time this winter in the Los Angeles area working with hitting expert Craig Wallenbrock and the newly hired hitting coach of the Dodgers, Robert Van Scoyoc.
“My hands are so in and out of the zone,” Kendall told Plunkett. “Hitting with them every day, it’s easy adjustments. It’s just hard to repeat them over and over again. But obviously coming off a year like last year, I don’t have to be perfect. You see one little thing you’ve got to change and that ends up changing three or four different things. It’s a process but it’s been fun so far.”
Kendall was chosen as the 23rd overall pick by the Dodgers in the first round of the 2017 draft. At the time, he became the third star out of Vandy to be selected by the Dodgers on the first day of the draft, joining pitcher Jordan Sheffield from 2016 and pitcher Walker Buehler from 2015.
The left-handed hitting, right-handed throwing Kendall was immediately ushered to rookie league at Ogden after signing his contract, and it didn’t take long for him to earn a promotion to Low-A Great Lakes. Across both levels in 2017, he slashed .254/.311/.444 with three long balls, six doubles, eight triples and nine stolen bases in 40 games played, mostly appearing in center field.
Considered by some to be the best overall athlete in the organization, Los Angeles scouts still believe they have a gem, as every single one of Kendall’s tools seemingly has an unlimited ceiling.
“Jeren is a very explosive player and some people may use the five-tool word to describe him,” Dodgers director of amateur scouting Billy Gasparino said not long after the 2017 draft. “He has the speed, the power and can play defense in center field, and he has an accomplished track record of results. He played for Team USA and playing at the Vanderbilt program that we know very well, we just thought it added up to a lot of positives.”
In his final season at Vanderbilt in 2017 as a junior, Kendall posted a .307 batting average with 10 doubles, five triples, 15 home runs, 53 RBI and stole 20 bases in 2017. He led the team in runs scored, hits and home runs, while recording a .372 on-base percentage and a .556 slugging percentage. He was ranked the sixth-best outfielder in the 2017 MLB Draft and the 18th overall best prospect by Baseball America. He was also named to the All-SEC and All-Defensive Team last season with the Commodores.
Kendall his baseball in his lineage, as his father Jeremy played in the Phillies’ organization, climbing as high as the Double-A level.
Despite all that, his biggest problem right now is making contact with the ball. Fortunately, his other tools are still shining brightly, proving why he’s still a valuable prospect amidst his current dilemma at the plate.
“I’m not happy by any means,” Kendall added. “I think the numbers can only say so much. I think if you came and watched me it’d be hard to say the numbers were what they were at the end of the year. If you came and watched me—watched me play defense, watched me run when I got on—you would never have noticed I was struggling the way I was.”
Hopefully, Van Scoyoc can work some of his magic.