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Dodgers get their draft target in Kendall George, earlier than expected

Kendall George, a high school outfielder out of Texas, was the Dodgers’ first pick in the 2023 MLB Draft, at No. 36 overall.
Kendall George, a high school outfielder out of Texas, was the Dodgers’ first pick in the 2023 MLB Draft, at No. 36 overall.
Photo: LA Dodgers

LOS ANGELES — The Dodgers planned to draft Texas High School outfielder Kendall George on Sunday at some point. It happened in the first round, with the 36th overall pick, and will likely set up the team with some more money to spend on the second day of the MLB Draft.

“I was originally supposed to go at pick 60, and then I just became the best guy available for them, so they went ahead and made me their first guy,” George said on a Zoom call Sunday night.

Other than meeting at the draft combine, which was at Chase Field in Arizona from June 19-24, George said he didn’t have much contact with the Dodgers until Saturday, the day before the draft.

“It was a big surprise for me, but I feel like this is a great landing spot for me,” he said. “I feel like they have great development, and I’ll be a great fit for them.”

George is rated an 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale for his speed, and he stole 32 bases in 39 games as a senior at Astascocita High School in Texas while hitting .445 with a .581 on-base percentage.

“He’s the fastest runner we’ve ever drafted since I’ve been here,” Dodgers vice president of amateur scouting Billy Gasparino said on a Zoom call Sunday. “The way the game is evolving, the ability to collect hits and steal bases, which we’re seeing on a daily basis, will play very well.”

But he wants to be known for more than his speed.

“I do have more to my game than just my legs,” George said. “I use them as an asset, just trying to work off what works best for me, try to use it to the best of my ability.”

George said he put on 15 pounds since last fall by lifting four to five times each week and eating 4,000 calories per day. It showed up in his performance.

“The summer version of him was he’s kind of small, a contact guy and speedy, and then this spring he’s 15 pounds more and a bigger frame,” Gasparino said. “Tyler Norton [Dodgers athleticism development coordinator] really bought in to the ability to add even more strength. We saw it in his batting practice, and in his games. He showed it, with even more impact with the bat than we were expecting.”

The Dodgers eyed George for their second-round pick, but a few of their targets for the No. 36 pick fell by the wayside before their turn came up.

“Kendall was a little bit of a last-minute surprise. He was always a target today, but the way the draft unfolded, we just didn’t want to lose him,” Gasparino said. “We valued him that much, and went ahead and pulled the trigger on him at 36.”

The recommended slot value for the 36th pick is $2,362,700, and the slot value for the 60th pick is $1,336,900. Since the Dodgers were going to pick George with that second-round pick, it’s very likely they had a deal for him at somewhere near the latter, lower number.

Gasparino said he was very confident a deal would get done for the high school outfielder. George, who has a college commitment to the University of Arkansas, was even more explicit in his plans.

“I’m 100-percent signing, for sure,” George said.

The Dodgers drafted Virginia third baseman Jake Gelof with their second-round pick.

“You notice right off the bat, he’s a very outgoing player. He loves the game, he’s very instinctual, we love his timing to hit,” Gasparino said. “Then he has 70 raw power [on the 20-80 scouting scale] to go with that. He was one of our scouts favorite college bats, and he went out and produced and performed, and made it easy for us.”

The Dodgers this year have just over $7.27 million in their draft bonus pool, over $3 million more than last year, virtue of having three more picks in the first 10 rounds of the draft.

“We’re still the 23rd bonus pool, but we feel rich,” Gasparino said.

They’ll have even more money to spend on Monday’s picks — Rounds 3-10 — if George signed for less than his slot value, which Gasparino wouldn’t confirm but did allude to.

“We do think we’re going to go out and hopefully get more players and more high school guys tomorrow,” Gasparino said, “and George gives us a little flexibility in doing that.”