LONG BEACH—With a reddish-blond mohawk that extends beyond the back of his baseball cap, Jeren Kendall makes an impression even before he steps on the field.
“A lot of people say I look like the Honey Badger; I’ve been getting a lot of that,” Kendall said, referencing Arizona Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu. “It’s just my little sway that I bring from Wisconsin. I’ve got to stand out, so this is how I do it.”
The moniker fits even better because Kendall is the rare baseball prospect who hails from the Badger State. But the rising senior outfielder from Holmen, Wis., didn’t need a distinctive haircut to stand out at the Area Code Games on Wednesday.
Kendall was a dynamo in the Midwest White Sox’ 5-3 win against the Southern California Brewers, in all phases of the game. He set the tone in the first inning, beating out an infield single to the right side, then stealing second and third before scoring on Bryce Carter’s RBI single. In his next at-bat, he was hit by a pitch, advanced to second on a single, stole third again and scored on Carter’s sacrifice fly.
The 5-foot-10, 175-pound Kendall’s calling card is his plus speed, and he knows how to use it, getting excellent jumps on the basepaths.
“Every time I get on, everywhere I play in Wisconsin, I’m going,” Kendall said. “It’s just about my jump. Hopefully I’m making a name for myself here. I’m just going every time, no matter what.”
He also set scouts abuzz with his center-field defense in the sixth inning. With John Balliet on second and one out, Kevin Padlo hit a fly ball that Kendall caught a few steps to his left. It looked like Balliet would easily be able to tag and advance to third, but Kendall threw a laser to third base on the fly, easily throwing out Balliet. He trotted to the dugout with a big smile on his face, jumping in the air to bump a leaping teammate in celebration.
“That throw felt good,” Kendall said. “It started off-line and kind of tailed back. Usually my ball doesn’t tail, but I think I got it a little sidearm there. But I got it off quick. I didn’t realize it got there so quick. When I saw it going, I was like, ‘Holy crap.’ ”
Kendall’s vivacious personality—not to mention his exciting game—should make him a fan favorite at Vanderbilt, assuming his rising stock doesn’t keep him from getting to campus. But scouts might shy away from Kendall’s smallish frame out of high school, and Vanderbilt recruits are generally tough to sign away from their commitments anyway. Kendall’s summer ball coach, Greg Reinhard of the GRB Rays in Madison, sent him down to Vanderbilt for a camp last December. A week later, he was committed to Vandy.
“There weren’t a lot of schools after me just because it was really early in the process,” Kendall said. “Then all of a sudden I was committed, and I started getting these emails like, ‘Hey, you committed a little early, huh?’ Yeah, but I wouldn’t want to go anywhere else, to be honest with you. I’m just so excited to get down there.”
Kendall needs to continue to add strength, but his lefthanded bat is improving quickly. He spends plenty of time working on his swing in the cages run by his father, Jeremey Kendall, who played five pro seasons and reached Double-A with the Phillies in 1996. When Kendall held his own against premium competition in the Team USA trials, his confidence surged.
“I just started off small like the rest of the Wisconsin guys, staying local,” he said. “I started seeing these other guys on the Internet, and I said, ‘Wow. I’d kind of like to be like them.’ I thought I had the skills to do that. I tried once, and they kept asking me to come back, so I said, ‘All right, I’ll give it a shot.’ It’s kind of fun; whenever I’m away, they say, ‘Jeren Kendall, representing Wisconsin.’ Like I’m representing the whole state—it’s kind of weird, you know? But it’s really awesome I have the opportunity to do this.
“It’s nice seeing this faster stuff. In Wisconsin, there’s not much 92, 93 stuff. When I went to USA, that was kind of like an eye-opener. But by the end of the week, I was like, ‘I like this stuff.’ It’s more of a truer game for me, it’s not just going out hacking away. It’s more getting on and stealing bases—that’s kind of my game, so that’s what I like about it.”