The rumors turned out to be true. The Dodgers selected athletic Vanderbilt outfielder Jeren Kendall with their first pick — No. 23 overall — in the 2017 MLB Draft.
Kendall was a consensus Top 10-15 prospect throughout the entire process, yet fell due to poor contact rate and signability issues. The Dodgers have worked their magic with hitters in the last handful of seasons, so they’re confident they can figure out Kendall’s swing in hopes of him reaching his ceiling.
MLB Network threw Jacoby Ellsbury and Joc Pederson comps on Kendall. I agree with the former more than the latter. Kendall is a legitimate 70-grade runner and defender in center field. Ellsbury is a good runner but not that good a fielder. Pederson was neither that good a runner or fielder. Also, I’m not sure Kendall has Pederson-level power in his bat, but he does have enough pop to be a 15-plus home run guy in the majors.
This is a case of a talented player falling and the Dodgers pouncing on him. That happened in 2015 when they popped Walker Buehler and 2014 when the popped Grant Holmes, though that was a little different because Holmes was a prep pitcher.
6’0, 180 pounds
Position: Center field
DOB: Feb. 4, 1996
Kendall has quick-twitch reactions at the plate and generates plenty of bat speed. He projects to hit for at least average power with a chance at above-average power, but with his swing comes a lot of whiffs. His contact issues are the main reason he was pushed to No. 23. On the surface, he’s a Top 5-10 prospect, but enough teams were scared off by his inability to make consistent.
He’s a legit center fielder who won’t have to move off the position. Kendall has great instincts and covers a ton of ground. He also has an above-average arm that could help him be one of the game’s best center fielders. On the bases, he has enough speed to swipe 20-plus bases, but it remains to be seen if he reaches that level in professional ball.
Videos courtesy of FanGraphs, Prospect Pipeline and 2080 Baseball
Here’s a fun note:
Jeren Kendall was a Vanderbilt roommate of Jordan Sheffield, who was drafted by the Dodgers last year.
— Ken Gurnick (@kengurnick) June 13, 2017
Perhaps he’ll be reunited with Jordan Sheffield before too long. Also, the Dodgers have established a pipeline with Vanderbilt University. They’ve selected Kendall, Sheffield (2016), Buehler (2015), Phil Pfeiffer (2015) and Spencer Navin (2013) — all Comodores — in the last few drafts.
Here’s what others are saying about the Dodgers’ choice of Kendall.
I think the #Dodgers get a steal with Jeren Kendall at 23. Yes there’s swing/miss…but he’s got top-of-the-draft tools and superstar upside.
— Aaron Fitt (@aaronfitt) June 13, 2017
#Dodgers take Jeren Kendall. Farhan Zaidi was watching him close down the stretch. Great value. Electric tools, can play CF, needs to cut Ks
— Frankie Piliere (@FPiliereD1) June 13, 2017
— Michael Lananna (@mlananna) June 13, 2017
Kendall was my #1 prospect coming into the spring but the huge strikeout totals and concerns over his… https://t.co/btoTYnMJOG
— keithlaw (@keithlaw) June 13, 2017
“Kendall was my #1 prospect coming into the spring but the huge strikeout totals and concerns over his disconnected swing pushed him off boards in the top half of the round. The dodgers have done this before, taking a Vandy player who slipped in 2015 with Walker Buehler, a high risk/high reward pick that makes sense for a team in their position.”
— Ben Badler (@BenBadler) June 13, 2017
It seems the Dodgers made a strong pick and got great value. Guys like this don’t usually fall to the latter-third of the draft. Signability could be an issue, but it shouldn’t take a ton more than slot to get Kendall to turn pro. He profiles as a first-division center fielder, even if he develops just a 40-45 bat. His power, defense and speed are that valuable.
I’ll do a midseason Top 30 prospects update during the All-Star break, but Kendall will be a Top 10 prospect in those rankings.