As we continue our coverage of the 2017 MLB Draft, we take a look at Jeren Kendall. The Vanderbilt outfielder’s ranking on prospect lists ranges from as high as No. 6 (MLB Pipeline) and as low as No. 18 (Baseball America), with an average ranking of 10.
Like others in the draft, Kendall’s availability at No. 11 is unknown. There is certainly a need for his skill set on the clubs in front of the White Sox, meaning he could easily be gone by the time they pick, though concerns (which we’ll touch on) and the wealth of power arms available may mean he is still on the board well after the club makes their selection.
MLB Pipeline gave Kendall the following grades on the 20/80 scale:
Hit: 50 / Power: 50 / Run: 70 / Arm: 55 / Field: 60 / Overall: 55
As MLB Pipeline notes, “A fast-twitch athlete with five-tool potential, Kendall stands out most with his plus-plus speed and also possesses deceptive strength.” Translation, the left-handed hitting junior can fly and has raw power. To that end, Kendall put up a .312/.379/.569 slash this past season with 15 home runs, 52 RBI, 19 stolen bases and five triples.
He is also a top-flight defensive outfielder with a power arm, capable of locking down center field with aplomb. The name most associated with Kendall in player comps, actually, is Jacoby Ellsbury. And make no mistake, that is high praise. Have also seen Jackie Bradley Jr.’s name bandied about.
All told, there is no doubting the fact Kendall has the tools you’d look for in a first-round selection. He has wheels, an arm, power to all fields, high exit velocity and can play a high-leverage defensive position.
If the Baseball America third-team All-American has a flaw, it’s his whiff-rate. Simply, Kendall strikes out a ton. This past season, for example, he struck out 71 times in 253 at-bats, or just over 28 percent of the time. Yes, he has prodigious power, but also owns an extremely long swing at times. This will assuredly prove problematic as he advances through the minor league system.
Another thing to keep in mind is his K-rate has not improved during his three seasons at Vandy. In fact, it’s gone the other way, and retooling a swing from the ground up is incredibly difficult. Subtle adjustments can be made, sure. But from all the video I’ve seen, Kendall is incredibly busy, yet rigid, up top. To be sure, he has sound balance, but if the top half changes, then so too must the bottom, potentially putting said balance in jeopardy. I can see Kendall getting stuck at Double-A without realizing his potential due to his inability to make consistent contact against advanced pitching.
And then there’s the lack of success using the old maple stick. As John Sickels over at Minor League Ball noted, Kendall owns an unimpressive .216/.286/.333 slash line with 35 K over 102 at-bats covering two summers of the Cape Cod League. Sickels points out reasons behind the poor production, but the fact remains: Kendall is not as fluid with a wood bat.
Kendall is no doubt an athlete with considerable upside. He has a ton of speed, plays exceptional defense and has near unlimited power. I don’t see how he fits into the plans on the South Side, though.
Jared Mitchell and Courtney Hawkins are too fresh in my mind to make the prospect of drafting Kendall palatable, and they just signed Luis Robert to a nice contract. To be sure, MLB teams can never have enough power, but it must be in balance with on-base percentage and the ability to make contact. They are better served taking a polished bat, even if that means sacrificing power in the process.
That said, several prognosticators, including Keith Law, have the White Sox taking Kendall at No. 11. Time will tell, I suppose.
Be sure to check out our other prospect profiles as well.
Austin Beck – OF
Adam Haseley – OF
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