Height/Weight: 6’0, 190
Previously Drafted: 2014, Round 30 by Boston Red Sox
Jeren Kendall attended Holmen High School in Holmen, Wisconsin, where he was the Wisconsin Player of the Year in 2013 and 2014. He was also named the Gatorade Player of the Year for the state of Wisconsin in 2014. Holmen High won their conference title from 2012-2014 and Kendall was First Team All-Conference in 2013 and 2014. He earned Academic Honor Roll during each of his four years in high school and also played on the hockey team.
Baseball America had Jeren Kendall ranked as the #88 prospect in the 2014 MLB draft class. They profiled him as a “classic leadoff hitter in centerfield with plus-plus speed that plays everywhere”. Their view was that he would be limited to 30-grade future power but shoots balls into the gaps. Kendall performed well at the Area Code Games but struck out too often at the World Wood Bat Championship in Jupiter, Florida. Many scouts thought his offensive profile depended on him being a high contact player. At the time, Kendall was listed at 5’9″ and 175 pounds. He has some professional bloodlines as his father Jeremy was a minor-league outfielder. Kendall was seen as a tough sign coming out of the Badger State and ultimately ended up playing at Vanderbilt instead of going pro.
Kendall has continued to show the tools of a prototypical leadoff hitter. Vanderbilt lists Kendall at 6’0 and 190 pounds, both substantially more than he’d been listed in high school – apparently he was a late bloomer physically. He started in the outfield as a Freshman for the National Runner Up that season at Vanderbilt and earned Freshman All-American and Freshman All-SEC Honors, as a teammate of current White Sox prospect Carson Fulmer. As a 19-year old, he hit .281/.394/.530 with 8 homers, 40 RBI, 21 walks and 60 strikeouts in 229 plate appearances. As a Sophomore he improved across the board, slashing .332/.396/.568 with 9 homers, 59 RBI, 25 walks and 62 strikeouts. He also earned recognition as a Third Team All-American by the NCBWA, and gained a lot of steam as a big time draft prospect heading into his Junior season.
Here in 2017, Kendall has hit .306/.380/.570 in 268 plate appearances as of this writing. He has 15 homers and 44 RBI to go along with 24 walks and 67 strikeouts. He’s also been named First Team All-SEC and First Team All-Defense for 2017.
This first video (from 2080 Baseball) shows some of the swing and miss concerns that are currently present in Jeren’s game:
The video below (from ESPN’s SEC Network) highlights some of Kendall’s raw ability that is tantalizing to scouts. His power/speed combo is shown and he even talks about himself briefly:
In this final video, many facets of Kendall’s game are shown via Fangraphs. He struggles with off-speed stuff, swings through fastballs, but also shows his power/speed combo with a pretty left-handed stroke.
Baseball America now lists Jeren Kendall as the #17 rated prospect in the draft after being #11 for the past month or so. They list him at 6’1″, 190 pounds and mention that he had a very productive 2016 season. BA also notes that he has the “best tools of any college position player” in the class. He’s an 80 runner with a plus arm and accuracy and they think he’s a plus defender in CF. The write-up also notes his plus bat speed and raw power. Some of their notes indicate scouts question how much he’ll be able to hit at the highest level because of his over 25% strikeout rate in college. The linked report states that he doesn’t use his lower half much in his swing but he does possess electric hand speed and strength. The publication compares him to former Louisville outfielder and 2016 1st rounder Corey Ray but they identify that Ray made more contact. As the videos above show in echo to statements from BA, Kendall’s approach is very “pull-heavy” and he “whiffs at pitches in and out of the strike zone”.
MLBpipeline.com lists Kendall as their #6 prospect in the 2017 class. They have Kendall listed at 5’10 180 pounds – the sizing numbers are pretty all over the place. The site notes that Kendall “showcased his abilities” with the U.S. Collegiate National Team last summer. He led that team in hits, extra-base hits, RBI, and steals, and they call Kendall a “fast-twitch athlete with five tool potential”. They also mention that Kendall learned to incorporate his lower half in his left-handed swing while in college and list comparisons to Yankees outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury while recognizing that Kendall has a stronger arm.
Back in November of 2016, ESPN’s Keith Law called Jeren Kendall “an actual five tool talent” and noted his potential for above average defense in CF while mentioning that his high strikeout totals do have some scouts concerned about his contact rate in the future. Law had Kendall listed as his pre-season #1 draft prospect for 2017. Recently, Law released his latest mock draft for ESPN and has Kendall falling to #21. Law states that, “Kendall could slip into the late first after a spring in which he’s had trouble making contact”. He does note that the athleticism Kendall has would be hard to pass up for too long though. Law says that Kendall is an 80 runner with bat speed and good range in CF.
Note: These Scouting Grades are from mlbpipeline.com. Keith Law and Baseball America both have 80 Run Grades on Kendall, so there is some variance…
Prospect Overview and Future Outlook:
Kendall’s “draft stock” has fluctuated wildly over the past few months. In the winter, he was seen as a top five lock and potential candidate to go with the #1 overall pick in this June’s draft. College hitters usually come off the board quick, especially when they are tool sheds that look like Kendall does. Scouts have mentioned Kendall’s significant strikeout issues ad nauseum and some like ESPN’s Keith Law believe that his stock has fallen to the bottom of round one.
I still think it’s likely that Jeren comes off the board in the 10-20 range. His hit tool will be important and could decide whether or not he’s a star but his other tools are valuable. Even if he never lives up to the tremendous ceiling he possesses, 70-80 grade runners with some power that play good defense at premium positions will always be valuable commodities in the game. Many will read this profile and be scared away by the White Sox history with “toolsy athletes”, particularly outfielders with strikeout issues. Fans are still having nightmares that feature Jared Mitchell, Keenyn Walker, and Courtney Hawkins, but Nick Hostetler used last year’s draft class to add more prospects to the system with broader “baseball” skills. Premium athletes with potential star power don’t grow on trees though and the investment with the #11 pick in the first round could prove to be too alluring for the White Sox brass to pass up.
Kendall hasn’t been linked or rumored to the White Sox at this point but some mock drafts have them targeting outfielders. Jeren is an interesting prospect with an interesting story though and he has his father Jeremy and a panda emoji to guide him on his way. How the White Sox scouting staff see the potential of his hit tool likely dictates whether or not they grab him at pick 11.
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