Leading up to Day 1 of the MLB Draft on June 12, we will be conducting Q&A interviews with many prospects who are projected to be first-rounders. For a complete listing of these interviews, click here.
Next up is Vanderbilt outfielder Jeren Kendall, a 6-foot, 190 lb. native of Holmen, Wisconsin. Kendall hit .306/.380/.570 with 15 homers and 18 steals for the Commodores this season, and is expected to join right-hander Kyle Wright as the school’s first-round picks this year.
Kendall is projected to go to the White Sox with the 11th overall pick in our latest composite mock draft, with MLB.com, ESPN and Baseball America all pegging him to go to Chicago with that pick. Kendall actually met with White Sox general manager Rick Hahn recently, fueling speculation that he is the team’s top choice at no. 11. Be sure to check out Kendall’s full scouting report over at SB Nation’s Minor League Ball.
At what point growing up did you get involved with baseball and develop your passion for the game?
"I think that was just immediate. My dad played pro ball and I was born in Clearwater because he was playing pro ball down there. It’s always been my number one. I had hockey in my life for a few years and my brother is a big hockey player. That was always something to take me away from baseball for a little bit and get the glove and bat out of my hands but I think baseball has always been my no. 1.”
Growing up, which major-league team was your favorite? Favorite player?
"My favorite team growing up was the Phillies. My dad played for the Phillies. I’ve always been around that, I had my dad’s old jerseys and stuff. When I was younger, I was a big fan of Matt Kemp. I was always a big fan of outfielders, being an outfielder. He was always kind of my inspiration.”
For you, was there a turning point moment when you realized you could turn pro and make a career out of this?
"I think it was probably freshman year here at Vanderbilt. Being from Holmen and what not, I didn’t really know what kind of competition I was up against. I held my own freshman year so I believed I could play with the best players in the country.”
Coming out of high school, there was talk about you as a high pick. What went into your decision to ultimately attend Vanderbilt and have the college experience?
"My process happened so quick in high school. I didn’t have many options for college anyway, so I was lucky to be in this place in the first place. I went to Area Codes and did well down there and all of the sudden I had scouts coming to my games in the spring. I think my family’s ability to slow that process down and really think about it helped, and I think I made one of the best decisions of my life to come here.”
What exactly led you to Vanderbilt?
"I think a lot of things. The education plus the baseball is awesome. I came here on my official and didn’t really have any expectations of this place at all. I didn’t know any of the big-time games here so I just came in and saw the culture as an outsider. It was nice. I think that’s kind of what brought me in. That’s exactly how it is and how it has been.”
That culture has developed so many top picks in the top few years, with guys like David Price and Dansby Swanson being picked first overall. What is it about the program that can churn out so many big names in the draft?
"We all know that we have these abilities to play this sport at a high level, but I think it’s more than just a game. We spend 25 minutes to an hour in the fall everyday in our classroom talking about personality traits and character. It’s just kind of developing yourself as a human being and advancing your skills as a baseball player.”
What advice, if any, have you gotten from guys who have gone as high draft picks over the last couple of years?
"I haven’t really spoken to that much, just because I don’t really enjoy talking about it. Not in a bad way, I just want to focus on what I’m doing now. I took note, and obviously all of us guys who are in this position have taken note of how guys [like Dansby Swanson] handled it my freshman year. We’ve always just told ourselves that we want it to be like that. We don’t want it to be our little sub-group away from the team of guys that are going to get drafted this year. They handled it very well and we obviously remember that and want to replicate that this year.”
You have a teammate right now that many people believe will be selected with the first overall pick in a couple of weeks. If you were a general manager, why would you select Kyle Wright with the first overall pick?
"I think, from a baseball standpoint, I don’t think he’s just a pitcher. This kid understands what he’s doing. I just faced him the other day actually [in intrasquad play] since we’ve been here after the SEC Tournament, and you can just tell that this guy just has the ability to put the baseball wherever he wants and it doesn’t matter what pitch it is. Besides that, the kid does everything for the team. He really does. He doesn’t leave anybody out, he doesn’t act like he’s gonna be that one guy. Neither did Dansby, either. That’s just kind of how we’ve always approached everything in this program. He’s just a guy that is gonna make everybody around him a little bit better.”
What is your biggest strength as a player?
"I think it’s my speed. That’s probably the most consistent thing in my game. I can use it in a lot of different ways, whether it’s on defense or on the base paths. It allows me to advance my skills and use my skills in lot of different ways.”
As you advance to the next level, what is the part of your game that you want to focus on improving the most?
"Maybe my walk-to-strikeout rate. That’s something everybody is always talking about. It’s not even about the strikeouts, maybe just putting more balls in play. I think that’s something I definitely need to work on and that’s gonna come eventually as I get more and more at-bats at a high level. I’m pretty excited to see what that looks like.”
You’re listed from anywhere to 5-foot-10 to 6-foot, depending on the source, but you have a lot of raw power and had 15 home runs this year. With a smaller frame, where does that power come from for you?
"That’s just me being quick. I was gifted with good eyes and quick hands. That’s always been what I’ve been taught. My dad has taught me well and gave me the basics to advance my skills. I think that’s always something I’ll have in my game. My ability to hit pitches that most guys can’t really hit and take advantage of mistakes consistently is something that I’ve been a part of for a while now.”
If you had to compare yourself to a major-leaguer, current or former, who would it be and why?
"I’ve heard the Jacoby Ellsbury one. I believe that. It’s the speed, the lead-off, top of the order outfielder kind of guy... and I believe that. I don’t know, I think I’ve always, and this isn’t a comparison, but I’ve always compared my swing from Robinson Cano. It’s not exactly like it, but I’ve taken a lot from him. I just try to emulate his swing a little bit. But I think the Ellsbury comp is definitely pretty close to my style of game.”
One point of emphasis from scouts has been that you have struggled with a wood bat and that the transition may be difficult from aluminum to wood. What are your thoughts on that?
"I don’t think it should be a problem. I think I’ve shown my ability to swing the wood bat out at the Cape my freshman year and then overseas this past summer with Team USA. I actually enjoy the wood bat a little bit more than metal just because it’s a lot shorter of a game and you can really tell the guys who are catching barrels consistently and are able to the head out on time.”
At the next level, a lot of guys change positions as they move up the ranks. Where do you envision yourself playing long-term?
"Center-field. No doubt. I think I’m definitely a center-fielder. I like to run a little bit. I’ve played both corners here. They were fine, that helped me understand what those guys are seeing to my left and right now when I’m in center. That was always nice, but I definitely think I’m a center-fielder at heart. I have the speed and the ability to take routes that will allow me to catch baseballs that shouldn’t be caught.”
What are your expectations for where you’ll be picked on June 12?
"I really have no idea. I don’t know how much you can really take from those mock drafts. I don’t really know who or where they’re coming from. We’ll see. I’ve always told people, me coming here was always about moving on with my baseball career. That’s really the only thing I want to do. Coming here, being able to play baseball at the next level, that’s what I want to do next. If I get the opportunity, I’ll take full advantage and I’m pretty excited about it.”