This is not the way it is supposed to work with top prospects. When the Rays promoted Wil Myers, he never went back down. Desmond Jennings did have a cup of coffee in September of 2010, but he has been with the Rays since his second call-up in July of 2011. Yet Kevin Kiermaier keeps going up and down. First it was two days in mid-April, when he threw out a runner home plate in his first major league start on April 12th. Now, he has started two straight games and played quite well, going 2 for 7 with his first major league hit, his first major league home run, and more incredible defense. However, with Jennings set to return on Tuesday, Kiermaier is heading back to Triple-A again. Even with that the case, however, the Rays have every reason to think that he will be latest piece of what could be a dynamic young outfield.
The excellent defense was expected for Kiermaier. That has been his calling card since the moment he entered pro ball, and he continues to show it now. But something that is commonly said is that a prospect “could play centerfield in the major leagues right now.” Often, though, that phrase is followed by “but he needs plenty of work at the plate.” Sure enough, Kevin Kiermaier still has to prove that he can combine his prowess in the field with a solid bat. It was not until last year that he showed the ability to hit the ball with authority, and it will take more than a year-plus of good hitting for Kiermaier to crack the Rays’ outfield for good. That said, Kiermaier continues to do everything in his power to change that perception of him, and he is really starting to get there.
In his first big league start, Kiermaier was overmatched at the plate, going 0 for 4 with a pair of strikeouts. But he headed back to Triple-A and did not let that phase him. Before his recent call-up, he had a .322/.372/.483 line, emerging as one of the Durham Bulls’ best hitters. And when he was back in the major leagues, he was able to step in the batter’s box with confidence and show what he can do. Kiermaier has drawn Sam Fuld comparisons for a long time, but he is a bigger player at 6’1″, 195. He may have Fuld’s speed, but he is a stronger player with power potential that he has shown flashes of tapping into. Rays fans may remember when he surprised everyone by launching a long two-run home run in spring training–most people had no idea that he was capable of that. Then yesterday, Matt Shoemaker left a fastball belt-high and away, and Kiermaier drilled it for an opposite-field homer. Kiermaier is not suddenly a big power threat, and he will have to work to hit the ball out of the yard with more consistency. All we can know for sure is that Kiermaier’s progress is real, and he deserves a more extended opportunity.
The good news for Kevin Kiermaier is that he is already ahead of the curve. Myers first came up in June while Jennings was not up to stay until July. It is May, and Kiermaier already has three major league games under his belt. They may not be the long stint Kiermaier was hoping for, but they are a valuable experience that he will continue to draw upon as he returns to Durham. In a month or two or three, Kiermaier will follow the path of Myers and Jennings and force the Rays to put him in their big league lineup. When he does, we have every reason to believe that he can be another player capable of making an impact in the Rays outfield and taking their team over the top.