LOS ANGELES -- Otherwise considered loaded with talent, the Dodgers farm system has been considered thin in the outfield, although Matt Kemp
is doing his part to change that perception.
Kemp, 21, is a right-handed hitter taken in the sixth round of the 2003 First-Year Player Draft after being heavily recruited to play Division I basketball (he's 6-4, 215 pounds).
Despite missing four weeks with a wrist injury, he had a breakout season in 2005 at Class A Vero Beach, slugging 27 homers with 90 RBIs, 23 stolen bases and a .306 batting average in 418 at-bats. His home runs and a .590 slugging percentage were Vero Beach franchise records. He advanced to the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .383 with a .606 slugging percentage and dramatically cut down on his strikeouts.
That earned him an invitation to his first Major League camp as a non-roster player. Management's purpose in bringing Kemp to camp is to give the new Major League staff and front office officials their first chance to see Kemp in action. Kemp views the opportunity as more than just introductory.
"The big leagues, that's my goal for next season," said Kemp. "Whatever happens, happens. But I'm working out hard in Arizona. You never know."
After a breakout season at Vero Beach, Kemp continued to impress in Arizona in the Fall League. He went 4-for-4 with two home runs in the league's championship game. He's expected to open the 2006 season at Double-A Jacksonville.
"My mentality is that nobody can get me out," he said. "I had confidence going into every game. I've heard some people compare my game to Derrek Lee. It's exciting to hear that. I have a power swing, sometimes it gets too long and I have to shorten it up."
Kemp not only has a power bat, but a throwing arm that can handle right field and the ball-chasing speed and instincts to handle center.
"I love it in center," said Kemp. "That's where I played most last year after trying it in Spring Training for the first time. I just fell in love with it. I can play all three, but I like being the leader in the outfielder."
Club officials were even more impressed with the way Kemp responded to the added responsibility of team leader after Andy LaRoche was promoted out of Vero Beach earlier in the season.
"I'm not saying I was trying to get out from his shadow, because we're good friends and we've played on every team together, but everybody thinks I played better after he was gone," said Kemp. "I think the team just jelled. And people forget, I hurt my wrist sliding early in Spring Training and I was out four weeks and around the time I got healthy, he got promoted."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com.