Almost certainly the best defensive outfielder in this year’s draft, Jeren Kendall represents a tantalizing possibility for an A’s farm system almost totally devoid of quality outfield prospects. Hailing from Vanderbilt like Sonny Gray, Kendall has made a name for himself with his five-tool potential. Whether Oakland should take him at #6 depends entirely on whether you trust our minor league system to help him cut down his strikeout rate. The defense and power are already there, but are we risking putting together a core that strikes out more than 25% of the time?
Jeren Kendall, OF
DOB: 02-04-1996 / Height: 6’0” / Weight: 190
Bats: L Throws: R
2017 Stats: .312/.379/.569 / 15 HR / 19 SB / 24 BB / 71 K
MLB Scouting Grades:
Hit = 50 / Power = 50 / Run = 70 / Arm = 55 / Field = 60 / Overall = 55
Most mock drafts have Kendall as a borderline double-digit slot pick, vying for the top outfield spot with Adam Haseley and high schooler Austin Beck. Jonathan Mayo has him 12th. John Sickels puts him 9th, behind both Haseley and Beck. Baseball America has him going 11th, also behind Beck. FanGraphs also places him 11th and puts Beck as Oakland’s pick. So generally speaking, Oakland picking him 6th would have him moving up a couple of spots relative to where most mock drafts place him and would require him to overtake Austin Beck. Despite the A’s holding a workout with Beck recently, they have a well-established preference for college players like Kendall versus riskier high school and prep prospects.
Four of Kendall’s five tools are already extremely well-developed, and he has the potential for success in any outfield position. He has a natural ability to read the ball off the bat and the speed to track down balls most outfielders don’t get to. His athleticism would almost certainly convert to success as a major league center fielder. He has an above-average arm to round out the defensive package. His glove alone ensures that Kendall can provide major league value, at the worst as a 4th outfielder.
Things aren’t all bad on offense, either. Kendall has significant power, swatting 15 homers in 2017, and initial concerns about his transition to wooden bats have been largely silenced. Additionally, his speed in the outfield also carries over to baserunning. Kendall has averaged more than 20 steals per year in his college career and seems to have strong instincts on the basepaths with an 80% successful steal rate.
There’s only one real con, but it’s a big one. Jeren Kendall really struggles to make contact with the ball. His strikeout rate throughout college has consistently hung around or above 25%. It seems to be a little bit of everything: his swing path is long and awkward and his pitch recognition is below average. The other top outfield draft pick, Austin Beck, also has contact issues, as noted by JerryBrewerEBHI. But Beck’s struggles seem a little more defined while Kendall’s would likely require completely reworking his swing. The difference between Kendall the All-Star and Kendall the 4th outfielder is that strikeout rate. One of those Kendalls is worth the 6th draft pick, the other is not.
I’d prefer Austin Beck. As noted above, Beck’s swing isn’t perfect either, but he is still in high school which means he has more time to figure things out than Jeren Kendall does. The A’s seem to prefer more developed players, but this may be the perfect time to break the mold.
Kendall fulfills an obvious organizational need, providing defense and athleticism far beyond any other outfield prospect in our system. We have a strong system, but if there is one consistent problem up and down the farm, it is strikeouts. Matt Chapman strikes out too much. Franklin Barreto strikes out too much. Renato Nunez strikes out too much. Whether it has been a product of the picks or the development or both, the biggest threat to the rising core for the A’s is strikeouts, and Jeren Kendall would probably exacerbate that.
If you think he can fix his swing then he is a no-brainer. But to me, the younger pick may actually be the safer bet in this case if Oakland goes for an outfielder.