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Bernie Pleskoff

Kiermaier's glove could be golden for Tampa Bay

Rays prospect has the makings of an outstanding defensive center fielder

Kiermaier's glove could be golden for Tampa Bay

Everybody digs the long ball, but in today's game, it is becoming more and more difficult to find power hitters -- players who can change a game with one swing of the bat. That's why pitching and defense are increasingly more important.

Games are not only won with the big home run, but the tide of a game can change quickly when pitching falters or the defense gives up additional outs. When healthy, the Tampa Bay Rays boast both solid pitching and good defense. However, when they are suffering from injuries to their pitching staff -- as they are now -- that solid, dependable defense takes on even more importance.

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It won't be long until prospect Kevin Kiermaier is roaming center field on a full-time basis with the Rays. He's an outstanding defender. In fact, Kiermaier is so good, he could eventually win multiple Gold Glove Awards.

Kiermaier showed off those skills on Sunday against the Angels, robbing Erick Aybar of a home run. Kiermaier also hit his first career homer on Sunday during his two-game callup, with Desmond Jennings on the bereavement list.

Kiermaier, who is ranked No. 10 on the Rays' Top Prospects list, attended Bishop Luers High School in Fort Wayne, Ind. He could have played football at a selective college, but after graduation, he went on to play baseball at Parkland College in Champaign, Ill. Parkland is a good junior college baseball school. Kiermaier played so well that he earned honors on the National Junior College Athletic Association All-America team.

Instead of transferring to play at a four-year college, Kiermaier signed with the Rays after he was selected in the 31st round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft. The risk was minimal for Tampa Bay. The reward could be terrific.

I was fortunate to scout Kiermaier in the 2012 Arizona Fall League. He played for the Phoenix Desert Dogs and had a very respectable season.

In 23 games and 69 at-bats, Kiermaier finished ninth in batting average at .348. Of his 24 hits, six were doubles and two were triples (he didn't hit a home run). Kiermaier stole eight bases and was caught stealing twice.

I came away impressed with Kiermaier as a complete player. He could hit, run and play stellar defense with energy and commitment.

Kiermaier is not a power hitter. The lack of home runs that fall was not a fluke. In parts of five seasons in Minor League ball, covering 1,637 plate appearances, he has hit 15 homers. Kiermaier's career best was six, which came last season when he split time between Double-A Montgomery (five) and Triple-A Durham (one).

However, in those same five seasons, Kiermaier has 38 triples and 53 doubles, and again, last season was his best. Finishing the year at Durham, he hit a combined .295, tallying 15 triples.

Kiermaier has a compact swing with quick, strong hands. He has the capability of spraying the ball around the entire field. When Kiermaier hits the gaps, he always has a chance to take an extra base with his plus baserunning.

Kiermaier hits left-handed, but he throws right-handed. He can play any of the outfield positions, although he's a natural in center. Kiermaier's instincts are outstanding, and he seems to know where the ball is at all times, taking good routes and covering ground quickly with his outstanding speed. He has a solid, accurate arm and poses a threat to any baserunner daring enough to test it.

At 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, Kiermaier has an athletic frame, and at age 24, he probably has little remaining growth.

Kiermaier made his Major League debut at the end of last season. He played the outfield and made the Rays' postseason roster. That was just the beginning. In my opinion, one day we'll see Jennings in left and Wil Myers in right, flanking Kiermaier as components of an outstanding outfield for Tampa Bay.

Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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