With college baseball now three weeks deep into their season, I felt now would be the perfect time to begin diving into 2017 MLB Draft coverage. For those who were around last year, every weekend I’d profile a specific prospect who I felt had a realistic shot at going to the Mariners with the eleventh selection in the draft. Long story short, Kyle Lewis, a player I adored and never thought in a million years would manage to fall to the Mariners, fell to the Mariners and I ended up whiffing on everyone.
This year, all gloves are off and I am covering everyone, which is why we are kicking off this year’s batch of draft prospect profiles with Vanderbilt outfielder Jeren Kendall, who is perhaps the most electrifying player in the draft.
At A Glance
The 21-year-old Kendall was born in Clearwater, Florida, but it was at Holmen High School in Holmen, Wisconsin where he developed into one of the best prep prospects in the country, getting named the Wisconsin Player of the Year in 2013 and 2014. A strong and unwavering commitment to Vanderbilt caused Kendall, widely considered an early-round talent, to fall all the way back to the 30th round, where he was selected by the Boston Red Sox. As you probably figured out, he remained committed to the Commodores all throughout.
Things have worked well for Kendall at Vanderbilt, as he has continued his development and now appears to be as much of a lock for a top-five selection as anyone in this draft. Here’s what he has managed to do in his three years in Nashville:
The numbers are fairly representative of all of the tools Kendall brings to the table: he can hit for average, he can hit for power, and he can run like hell. And that table doesn’t even begin to touch on his defense, which is by far the strongest aspect of his game.
As previously mentioned, Kendall brings with him the potential to be a high-average hitter with some pop in the majors one day. When he’s making contact, he’s frequently spraying hard line drives all over the field and using his elite speed to wreak havoc on the bases. You can see in the video above how effortlessly he flies around the bases on a shot to the gap. The power, meanwhile, is totally legit. We’re not talking wall-scrapers hit out to the closest corners of the ballpark. These are the no-doubters not typically seen with center fielders:
During his time in Vanderbilt, he’s hit 27 doubles, 16 triples, and 20 home runs in just 132 games.
There are aspects of his game that worry me some. If you didn’t do the math on those strikeout and walk numbers above, his highest walk-rate over the course of a season so far is 9.17% while his lowest strikeout rate is 21.5% (he was pushing it up near 27% his freshman year). College statistics tend to work exclusively in small sample sizes, but this is a problem that’s frequently pointed out and you don’t see a ton of high-end college prospects put up rates over that 20.0% threshold. And as it typically goes with those high strikeout-rates, there is a lot of whiffing in Kendall’s game.
Some of these issues are covered (and deeply explored) in this scouting video posted by Baseball Rebellion:
It’s a long video, but to summarize briefly: there are several mechanical issues in his swing that are holding him back right now and they will likely need to be cleaned up by whichever team drafts Kendall if he is going to succeed in the big leagues.
Defense is the far safer aspect of Kendall’s game. His combination of athleticism and general feel for the position make him a pretty great bet to not only stick at center field moving forward, but be an incredibly valuable center fielder moving forward. In addition to the wheels, Kendall possesses plus arm strength, which only makes him all the more intriguing as a defender.
How likely is he to be available when the Mariners pick?
At this point, you’d assume it is close to impossible. Kendall is arguably the most well-rounded player in the entire draft and if he were to fall to the Mariners, something must have gone horribly wrong over the year for Kendall that caused him to plummet, meaning you’re probably getting some broken version of him (see: Buddy Reed, Alec Hansen in 2016). If I had to guess, I’d say Kendall goes to either the Reds (No. 2) or the Padres (No. 3).
As a final note on Kendall, I leave you with this scouting report and player comp from MLB.com:
A fast-twitch athlete with five-tool potential, Kendall stands out most with his plus-plus speed and also possesses deceptive strength. He has learned to incorporate his lower half in his left-handed swing while at Vanderbilt and has good balance at the plate. There's more swing and miss in Kendall's game than scouts would like, leading to some concerns about his pitch recognition and whether he'll reach his offensive upside.
There are no worries about Kendall's defense, because he has the instincts and quickness to cover both gaps. He also knows how to use his speed on the bases. Kendall's overall game draws comparisons to that of Jacoby Ellsbury, though his arm is significantly stronger.