Dodgers’ top pick has speed, power

Ken­dall, an out­fielder from Van­der­bilt, is an ‘ex­plo­sive player’ who strug­gles in one key area.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Mike DiGio­vanna mike.digio­vanna@la­times.com Twit­ter: @MikeDiGio­vanna

The Dodgers chose dy­namic Van­der­bilt Univer­sity out­fielder Jeren Ken­dall, who com­bines su­perb speed with above-av­er­age power and de­fense, with the 23rd over­all pick in Mon­day’s draft.

They used their sec­ond-round pick (62nd over­all) on Mor­gan Cooper, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound right-han­der from the Univer­sity of Texas. He missed the 2015 sea­son be­cause of lig­a­ment-re­place­ment surgery on his el­bow but re­bounded to be­come one of the na­tion’s top col­lege pitch­ers this past sea­son.

The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Ken­dall, who bats left-handed and throws right-handed, hit .307 with 15 homers, five triples, 10 dou­bles and 53 RBIs. He also stole 20 bases in 24 attempts in 62 games as a ju­nior this past sea­son.

“When he puts ball in play, there’s a pre­mium speed or power re­sult, whether it’s a home run, dou­ble or stolen base,” Dodgers scout­ing di­rec­tor Billy Gas­parino said. “If we can im­prove his con­tact rate so he can put ball in play, we feel he’ll be a pro­duc­tive player.”

Ken­dall, a na­tive of Hol­men, Wis., has ex­cel­lent bat speed and raw power, but there is a ques­tion as to whether he will be able to make con­sis­tent con­tact in the big leagues. He struck out 74 times and walked 24 times in 261 at-bats, with many of his whiffs com­ing on pitches out­side the strike zone.

“I think ev­ery player has a de­vel­op­ment piece, and some­times more than one, to reach the ma­jor leagues,” Gas­parino said. “I’m sure our coaches will work on that area. He’s aware of it, and we’ll work to­gether to im­prove it.”

Ken­dall is a plus de­fender in cen­ter field, with a strong, ac­cu­rate arm. Some have com­pared the 21year-old with New York Yan­kees out­fielder Ja­coby Ells­bury.

“Ja­coby didn’t have his power in col­lege, but you can see how they make that com­par­i­son,” Gas­parino said. “We would love it if that was the end re­sult. … He’s an ex­plo­sive player. Some peo­ple use the ‘five tool’ term.”

It marked the third straight year the Dodgers have used one of their first picks on a Van­der­bilt prod­uct fol­low­ing the se­lec­tion of pitch­ers Walker Buehler (2015 first round) and Jor­dan Sh­effield (2016 com­pen­sa­tion-round pick).

“We have a lot of re­spect for their pro­gram,” Gas­parino said, “but I think it’s pretty co­in­ci­den­tal.”

Cooper, 22, went 6-3 with a 2.32 ERA in 16 games as a red­shirt ju­nior this past sea­son, strik­ing out 110 and walk­ing 33 in 891⁄3 in­nings and hold­ing bat­ters to a .204 av­er­age. His fast­ball sits in the 94 mph range; he also has two good break­ing pitches and a changeup.

“He’s what you’d ex­pect out of a Texas right-handed pitcher: big, strong, and re­ally com­pet­i­tive,” Gas­parino said. “We love his mean streak on the mound. Two years off Tommy John surgery, it seemed like he was trend­ing up and com­ing into his own.”

Ma­jor League Base­ball’s sug­gested slot value for the 23rd pick is $2,702,700. The slot value for the 62nd pick is $1,018,200.

“Like all col­lege ju­niors, we ex­pect them to sign,” Gas­parino said. “I think our or­ga­ni­za­tion is a place peo­ple want to come. I ex­pect [ne­go­ti­a­tions] will go well, but it’s al­ways a two-way street. We’ll see what hap­pens.”

Ted Kirk As­so­ci­ated Press

JEREN KEN­DALL hit 15 home runs for Van­der­bilt.

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