Previously Ranked: N/R
What Others Say: Pinstripes Plus 6th, Baseball America 5th, John Sickels 10th (B-)
Physical Ability: Kennedy is another in the lineage of dominating USC pitchers. Unlike his predecessors Mark Prior, Randy Johnson, Tom Seaver, or even Barry Zito, he did not have something that made scouts say “wow”. A slightly built right-hander standing 6’0’’ tall and weighing in at 195, Kennedy does not throw as hard as the first 3 guys. Instead, his fastball is typically around 90. He does not have the awe inspiring breaking stuff that the two lefties on that list possess. Rather he throws a curveball that has been solid throughout his career, but can yell “hit me!” when he’s off. Despite those shortcomings, Kennedy still had a terrific first two years at USC and heading into his junior year was poised to etch his name alongside Prior’s in the history books. His success could be traced to terrific control and command and a plus changeup.
What Happened in ’06: Of course, Kennedy fell to the Yankees in the draft because he didn’t have the junior year he was expected to have. Instead of being terrific, he was merely solid. His fastball velocity dipped from solid to below average, he struggled with his curveball, and his changeup took a slight step back. In other words, everything went wrong. Despite this, Kennedy still had a solid season and the Yankees tabbed him with first pick, presumably because they had inside information on “fixing” him thanks to Mark Newman and the infamous USC network. Kennedy signed late and made a couple starts for Staten Island during the end of the regular season and playoffs. His performance there was similar to the performance he would go on to have in the Hawaiian Baseball League. He walked more than you would expect given his pedigree, allowed his share of runs, and struck out a ton of guys. This seems to have been an issue of rust more than anything else as he would struggle with his control early in games. This would leave him in a position where he HAD to get certain pitches over and batters would tee off.
What Lies Ahead: Kennedy will begin the 2007 season pitching for the Tampa Yankees. As he is now, I expect him to dominate in the Florida State League, he is the definition of a polished college pitcher and that is what they do there. Beyond that, how much success he has will be determined by how quickly he is able to improve his curveball. A changeup and command only gets you so far.
Grade: In ranking Kennedy as high as I am, I’m putting a lot of faith in Nardi Contreras’ ability to unlock what Kennedy had going prior to his junior year. Right now, he just isn’t that impressive of a pitching prospect. However, having been a known commodity and with his history of success, I feel Kennedy HAS to be given the benefit of the doubt. If he develops as expected, Kennedy can slide nicely into the middle of a rotation. Despite a similar build and somewhat similar pitching motion, he’s not Mike Mussina and never will be. At worst he’s a safe bet to contribute to the back of a rotation. B-