Looking Back, Moving Forward: Kevin Kiermaier

Kevin Kiermaier came into 2013 as a very under the radar player in the Rays’ system. Kiermaier, a 31st round pick in 2010, had a reputation as a very good defensive outfielder. However, he had never hit for much power, and thus was not given much credit as a prospect. But Kiermaier impressed in 2013, giving the Rays many reasons to be excited about his future.

Splitting 2013 between Double-A and Triple-A, Kiermaier was very good all-around. Not only did he keep his reputation as playing the best outfield defense in the Rays’ system, but his bat made huge strides. Always struggling with extra-base hits, Kiermaier managed a solid .431 slugging percentage in 2013. On top of this he also hit .295 to add to a .362 on base percentage. Kiermaier also managed to steal 21 bases, although he was caught 12 times. Scouts have praised his “gap-to-gap approach”, and have often compared him to Brett Gardner. After hitting to a solid .307/.370/.434 line in 97 Double-A games, Kiermaier did slow down a bit in Triple-A, managing a .263/.338/.423 line in 39 games. All of Kiermaier’s work with the bat paid off in 2013.

On September 29th, Kiermaier received an unexpected call when he found out he would be flown to Texas to potentially be on the Rays’ roster for game 163 against the Rangers. With Desmond Jennings limited, the Rays could used Kiermaier as an emergency center fielder, or as a late defensive replacement. Sure enough, Kiermaier was added to the active roster before the game. Kiermaier made his major-league debut that night, playing one inning in centerfield. Not only this, but he was included on the roster for the Wild Card game against the Cleveland Indians. With the Rays needing less pitchers on the roster, they elected to utilize Kiermaier’s defensive prowess once again. Just like game 163, Kiermaier played one inning of defense in centerfield. It is easy to draw a comparison between Moonlight Graham and Kiermaier, however Kiermaier provides reason to believe he will see extended time in the big leagues in the close future.

It has always been known that Kiermaier has the defense to play in the big leagues. It is very impressive that in game 163 and the Wild Card game, Kiermaier managed to push defensive wiz Sam Fuld out of center field into a corner spot. Had Kiermaier been in the big leagues in 2013, he likely would have competed for a gold glove. However, his ceiling has always been more of a 4th outfielder or fringe starter due to his inability to hit for power. But his advancements with the bat now have scouts saying he could become a good everyday big league centerfielder. While he will never be a middle of the order presence, Kiermaier could become a solid number one or two hitter if he can continue to develop his bat. Add this on top of his very good defense, and he could become a good big league regular. He also has good speed which could translate to stealing 15-20 bases a season in the big leagues.

Look for Kiermaier to start 2014 in Triple-A to further development with his bat. However, if Kiermaier is able to produce with Durham, we could see him in the big leagues before the season is over. As long as Kiermaier can prove passable with the bat, he has a floor of  at least a 4th outfielder due to his defensive prowess. But if Kiermaier can continue hitting like he did in Double-A in 2013, he can reach his ceiling and become a solid everyday centerfielder for the Rays for years to come.

Tags: Kevin Kiermaier Tampa Bay Rays

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