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Matt Kemp’s Maturation

Los Angeles Dodgers CF Matt Kemp just turned 25 toward the end of last season, yet he’s well established as a fantasy baseball force. The 6-3, 225 pound righty batter possesses an enthralling blend of power and speed, and he enters the 2010 season with an ADP of seven, according to mockdraftcentral.com.

Kemp clocked minor league pitching, posting a combined .311/.359/.519 triple-slash. His thunderous bat (.208 ISO) and fleet feet (20+ steals in 2005 and 2006) made the 2003 6th-round pick a highly acclaimed prospect. Kemp’s plate discipline left something to be desired, as he walked in just 6.2 percent of his plate appearances. But his youth and broad base of skills gave hope that he would learn to lay off junk pitches.

Despite swinging from his heels early in his career, Kemp was a highly productive player. He posted a 93 wRC+ in limited playing time in 2006, but boosted that number to 136 in 2007. While Kemp showed plus power in ’07 (.178 ISO), his BABIP was an astronomical .417. He also didn’t utilize his speed all that much, swiping 10 bags in 15 attempts. According to Baseball Prospectus’ Equivalent Stolen Base Runs metric, Kemp cost the Dodgers a little more than two runs with his base thievery.

Kemp’s talents were clear, but he was more raw than an uncooked Dodger Dog. Since that point, however, L.A.’s center fielder has made considerable progress in refining his game:

2007: .342/.373/.521, 136 wRC+, .178 ISO, .417 BABIP, 5.2 BB%, 10 SB/ 5 CS
2008: .290/.340/.459, 116 wRC+, .168 ISO, .363 BABIP, 7.1 BB%, 35 SB/ 11 CS
2009: .297/.352/.490, 128 wRC+, .193 ISO, .349 BABIP, 7.9 BB%, 34 SB/ 8 CS

His walk rate has climbed three straight seasons. Not coincidentally, Kemp’s outside swing percentage has gone in the opposite direction: he took a cut at 36.4% of pitches out of the zone in 2007, 31.5% in ’08 and 28.5% this past year (the MLB average is about 25 percent).

Having learned to resist more of those pitcher’s pitches, Kemp hasn’t gotten behind in the count as much. His first-pitch strike percentage has also declined three years running: 62.1% in ’07, 61.5% in ’08 and 57.1% in ’09 (58-59% MLB average).

Kemp has smoothed out some of the rough edges on the base paths as well. After stealing bags at a 67% clip in 2007, he took 35 bases with a 76% success rate in ’08 and nabbed 34 in ’09, coming up safe 81% of the time. His Equivalent Stolen Base Runs figure has improved from -2.17 in 2007 to +0.09 in 2008 and +1.04 in 2009.

Many players ascend to the majors with superlative scouting reports, yet can’t seem to translate those considerable skills into production at the highest level. Not Kemp. Each season, he has sharpened his strike zone while becoming more efficient on the bases. Equipped with elite tools and baseball aptitude, Kemp should only get better from here.