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2017 Phillies Draft Preview: Jeren Kendall, OF

A super athletic Center Fielder whose ceiling is as high as anyone's. He may be gone by the Phillies' pick, but a lot can change in the next 6 months, so he's worth looking at as a possibility.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

In case no one has figured it out over the last several years, I have a trend I tend to follow in writing my draft previews. It really isn't conscious, it's more a result of me being like the impatient kid who can't wait to open Xmas presents. I tend to review the prospect I'm most excited about first, followed by the prospect ranked to go first overall (assuming he wouldn't fall to us - or last year because that seemed like an exceedingly logical start). This year I kind of got both of those objectives out of the way with Hunter Greene, but Greene isn't a universally projected #1 pick. A few outlets predict Vanderbilt's Jeren Kendall as the top prospect. Further, this is a pretty deep class where I could see five or six guys ending up as the top pick 6 months from now and a few guys unlikely to be #1, but quite likely top 8 picks. The College class is especially deep, which may be a focus for the Phillies to line up with their projected timeline for contending again.

As for our subject today, Jeren Kendall is a Vanderbilt Junior listed at 6'0" 190 lbs. He's insanely athletic, a potential 5-tool star who has drawn a few breathless comps to Billy Hamilton and Jacoby Ellsbury. He does have speed for days, I've seen enough 80 grade times to First to say he's a legit grade 80 runner (in the 3.9-4.0 seconds to First Base from the left side - it's worth noting Hamilton manages to score times below 3.9 routinely enough that people generally call his speed 80+). I think Kendall's speed is probably more Roman Quinn than Billy Hamilton, but that's still Plus-Plus to Elite speed. Plenty of speed for him to remain in Center.

As for his Defense, we'll start with his arm which has been clocked throwing ~93 mph on throws from the Outfield, which is plenty to stay in Center or cover Right Field if he ever need to shift there. He's got well more than enough speed for Center and despite being a part time High School Baseball player from a cold weather state (Wisconsin) his instincts and routes in Center are actually quite good. His Defense alone with that speed could be a carrying tool and enough to have a floor as a 5th Outfielder, but what idiot would draft a 5th Outfielder 8th overall, not to mention consider him a #1 overall possibility? So let's talk hitting.

I'm not going to do the feast of videos and analysis I usually do, because videos don't really tell Kendall's story as a hitter. We'll look at one and I'll talk about what I see shortly, but it's important to remember that Kendall is not very experienced. He came to baseball late and didn't really focus on the sport until he got to Vandy. Kendall is exactly the type of guy the Phillies went gaga for a decade ago (think d'Arby Myers, Collier, Hewitt, etc.). He has athleticism for days, he has the true 5-tools, his swing looks pretty, his defense looks smooth, but he has a glaring weakness. He kind of stinks at hitting. That may be a little strong, as he slashed .332/.396/.568 last year and any guy OPS'ing near 1.000 is doing something right. Kendall, though, has a whole lot of swing and miss to his game (23% K rate last year, down from 29% his Freshman year). In order to stay in the 1:1 conversation, that rate will probably need to settle in the high teens this season for teams to feel comfortable he is improving his pitch recognition. Any regression probably drops him to the second half of the First Round, as I think his tools are just too enticing and rare for him to drop totally out of the round without a total disaster of a season.

So now for the video (from rkyosh007) and, like I said above, Kendall looks like he has the basic skeleton in place to be a very good hitter. The first thing to notice is that he's pretty quiet; a pre-pitch bat wiggle for timing and a small step. I imagine early on teams may try to add a bit more leg kick so he can more consistently utilize his lower half which, to my eye, occasionally looks to be a little out of sync. It would also allow more drive when he does connect. The trick of course will be to avoid messing up his timing, especially given his tenuous pitch recognition, which is why I expect it would be a smaller leg kick (think of should-be Phillie Jackie Bradley Jr.'s small kick). This is probably the longest video I've posted in one of these pieces, so you'll see a little of everything, defense, base running, plate patience, god awful swings at pitches just off the plate, beautiful cuts, etc. All there is to like and be a bit scared of regarding Kendall is in this video.

Kendall is definitely a guy I'll revisit before the draft in a piece (probably one of the final preview pieces). If his K rate settles into the teens, forget him, he'll be gone by the 8th pick. If his K rate reverts to mid-to upper 20's, well, then we can talk about him for the Second Round. However, if his rate goes down, but only to around 21% or so, we may be talking about him 8th overall. I'm not sure how I feel about that. He's more advanced than Hewitt, Collier, etc. were, but he's got an awful lot of boom or bust to his profile.

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