LOS ANGELES — The Dodgers made their first two selections of the 2017 MLB Draft, and the theme on Monday seemed to revolve around strikeouts.
First-round selection Jeren Kendall, a speedy center fielder from Vanderbilt, hit .307/.372/.556 with 15 home runs and 20 stolen bases as a junior, but also struck out 74 times in 295 plate appearances (25.1%).
“That’s an area of improvement,” Dodgers scouting director Billy Gasparino said on a conference call. “I’m sure our player development staff will starting working on how to improve it.”
Even with the strikeouts, the Dodgers were intrigued with the production, and potential.
“When he puts the ball in play, there is a speed-power result that happens, whether it’s home runs, or doubles or ability to steal bases,” Gasparino said. “If we can raise that contact rate up and put the ball in play, we feel confident he can be a productive major leaguer.”
Morgan Cooper, the Dodgers’ second-round pick, struck out 110 batters in 89⅓ innings as a redshirt junior for Texas, two years removed from Tommy John surgery.
“He’s what you expect out of of a Texas right-hander. He’s big and strong, 6’5, 220 pounds,” Gasparino said. “He’s really competitive. He has an active fastball, and two breaking balls now that we think are potential plus pitches.”
Gasparino said Cooper could be a fast mover through the system, but not because he could switch to a relief role.
“He has a lot of star qualities. Our scouts were high on him coming out of the fall. He’s definitely a starter,” Gasparino said. “Most of his stuff is present. On the development end, we’re not waiting for a pitch to come or maybe have to work on his delivery.”
Kendall is the third Vanderbilt player selected by the Dodgers in the first round in the last three years, joining pitchers Walker Buehler (2015) and Jordan Sheffield (2016).
“We have a lot of respect for the program,” Gasparino said. “But I think this is just coincidental.”
It seems relative to most national rankings, Kendall was projected to go higher than 23rd, and Cooper was projected to go lower than 62nd. Gasparino was pragmatic when asked about the signability of the duo.
“Like always, the college juniors, we expect them to sign. We’re hopeful we can get things done. We think our organization is a place where people want to come,’ Gasparino said. “But it’s a two-way street, and we’ll wait to see what happens.”