When the Dodgers selected Jeren Kendall in the 1st round of the 2017 draft, they knew they were getting a unique player who had shown the ability to “handle the moment”.
Kendall was the Wisconsin player of the year in 2013, the Gatorade Player of the Year in 2014, and earned 6 letters in both hockey and baseball at Holmen High School during his prep career. Those accomplishments, combined with his unique talents, got him drafted in the 30th Round by the Red Sox.
But, Kendall had different plans. Kendall, instead, elected to take his talents to Vanderbilt, to be a Vandy Boy, and it proved to be a great decision.
It didn’t take the 5’11” center fielder long to make his mark in College as he earned Freshman All American honors in 2015 and showed that he was more than just talented, he was also clutch.
In the College World Series of that year, the 5 tooled Center Fielder had a big RBI single in the finals of the College World Series against Virginia and also delivered the first walk-off home run in TD Ameritrade history against Cal State Fullerton.
Kendall’s efforts, both on and off the field, garnered him very high praise from his legendary Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin
“Jeren emerged as a key component of our 2015 Omaha team as a freshman and has steadily grown as a player. His physical skills are different, uncommon and fun to watch. He can impact a game with his feet, glove, arm and bat. His best baseball is ahead of him for sure. He is mature and very consistent in everything that he does on and off the field. His disposition makes him fun and easy to coach.”
Kendall continued his stellar collegiate career in 2016, his Sophomore year, by becoming a 3rd team All American after hitting .332 with 9 home runs and an OPS of .964.
In 2017, his Junior year, Kendall became draft-eligible again. Draft eligible years carry a large amount of individual pressure for players of Kendall’s caliber because their performance could mean the difference between an offer of millions of dollars or another year of Math classes.
Don’t get me wrong, the College baseball experience is incredible, especially at a place like Vanderbilt, but signing for millions of dollars at such a young age is any young player’s dream.
Kendall proved to be, once again, up to the challenge, as the “cool-headed” star hit .307 with 15 home runs and an OPS of .928.
Those efforts were good enough to get him drafted again, after his Junior year at Vanderbilt, but, this time, with an offer he couldn’t resist.
Kendall signed in the 1st round of the 2017 draft for $2,705,200, which was close to $200,000 above slot value. He also received a $2.9 million dollar signing bonus so when the ink dried the Vandy Boy became the next Dodger full of high expectations.
As Kendall entered the Dodgers organization he was tabbed with having a unique combination of speed, elite defense, and the ability to hit for both average and power. And, again, he had shown the knack to come up clutch. But, he also had a knock, and that was that he needed to learn to make more contact.
In 2017, between Rookie League Ogden and Low-A Great Lakes, Kendall struck out 45 times in 142 at-bats.
In 2018, at High-A Rancho Cucamonga, Kendall struck out 148 times in 438 at-bats, and then in 2019, he struck out 147 times in 352 at-bats.
Having struck out 340 times in 932 at-bats, Kendall needed to make some adjustments and the Dodgers had the right people in place to help.
Kendall stayed in LA over the winter of 2019 and worked with Craig Wallenbrock and recently hired, at the time, hitting coach Robert Van Scoyoc.
The main swing adjustment Kendall was faced with was that his swing was too linear. That means his barrel traveled on a path from point A to point B and on a downward path through the ball.
So, his barrel wasn’t staying in the hitting zone long enough and, as a result, it was forcing him to have perfect timing to make contact.
In this video notice how his hands take a very downward path to the ball, then, at contact, his top hand rolls the barrel over instead of letting it release and go back “up”.
In other words, he’s “swinging down’, rolling over, and cutting across the ball.
This creates a lot of “buggy whip” in the barrel, which is why he has so much power, but it also forces him to have perfect timing to make contact which is why he was striking out so much.
As noted earlier, Wallenbrock and Van Scoyoc were/are the perfect people to help Kendall make the swing adjustments he needed to make.
Wallenbrock is an innovative private hitting instructor who works as a consultant with the Dodgers, and has worked with and gained the approval of guys like Ryan Braun, JD Martinez and other Major Leaguers.
Wallenbrock and Van Scoyoc both believe in creating “lag” with the barrel to keep it in the hitting zone for as long as possible instead of rolling it over.
Keeping the barrel in the zone longer, thus, not rolling over, was the exact adjustment Kendall needed to make so it was time to get to work.
After Covid canceled the 2020 Minor League season, Kendall got off to a slow start in 2021.
Or did he?
In May he hit just .176 and struck out 22 times in 68 at-bats. None of that is good, but, he also walked 16 times, had an on-base percentage of .349, knocked in 11 RBI’s, and scored 9 runs.
So, although he hit for a low average and still had a high strikeout rate, he was directly involved in scoring his team almost 1 full run per game.
In June Kendall continued to knock in runs with 17 RBI’s, but then also increased his batting average to .229. Kendall struck out 44 times in 96 at-bats which is way, way too many times, but, again, he drove in 17 runs and scored 10 runs in 25 games. So, he was directly involved in producing his team over 1 run per game.
Got Hot Then Hurt
July is when Kendall really started to show promise hitting .333 with an OPS of 1.152.
But, then he broke a bone in his foot and was forced to sit out from July 4th until August 14th.
In his first at-bat back this month, in typical Kendall fashion, he hit a home run on the 2nd pitch he saw.
On June 27, just 6 games before he was injured, Kendall blasted a 2 out, bottom of the 9th walk-off Grand slam to give the Drillers a win over the Springfield Cardinals.
Jeren Kendall, walkoff grand slam!!! pic.twitter.com/HKL92xe1Lj
— Josh Thomas (@jokeylocomotive) June 27, 2021
Earlier that month, on June 10th, Kendall hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 10th inning to lead the AA Drillers to a win over Wichita as well.
So, as the headline reads, Jeren Kendall certainly knows how to “handle the moment” and is much more than just 5 tangible tools of talent. He also has the intangible quality of being clutch.
Kendall has made some very nice swing adjustments so let’s break down the basics of what he has done.
Here’s Kendall right before contact
Kendall’s back shoulder is driving to the ball, his head is slotted on his back hip, his barrel is lagged and it makes a straight line through his arms and shoulders.
After contact, his barrel is pointed up towards where the ball is going instead of towards the 1st base dugout like it did when he was cutting across the ball and rolling over.
Kendall is finishing high now which shows that the path of his barrel is making an arc which is a large part of his adjustment.
Kendall is still striking out a lot, so only time will tell if that issue can be resolved. But, even with a high volume of strikeouts, he has found ways to still be a really productive offensive player. So, although striking out appears to be a “feast or famine” approach for him, in reality, it hasn’t been this year.
As a result, while his swing Changes haven’t reduced the strikeouts, what they’ve done is help work around them. In other words, his at-bats that don’t end up in a strikeout have become more productive and that is, in and of itself, a great start.
It is also undisputed that Kendall is absolutely an elite defender in the outfield, and hopefully, it has become undisputed in your mind that he has “it” when it comes to handling the moment.