Take A Look. Here Comes Kemp

VERO BEACH, Fla.- His average is currently down around .150 which means that he's been a lot more Peter Parker at the plate than Spiderman but in many ways, of all the touted young Dodgers who are in the main camp, none have done more to make a postive impression of what the future holds for them than Matt Kemp.


The power- Early in training, Grady Little watched the projected big boppers take batting practice as a group. Joel Guzman made the new manager's eyes bulge more than a bit as he sent a couple of mammoth blasts soaring out beyond the confines of the field into the trees that rim it. Then, Kemp got his turn in which he ripped a titantic shot that traveled beyond the trees onto the roof of a storage shed well over 500 feet away.

When asked later if he were muscling up to impress the boss, Mattt replied, "Honestly, I didn't even know he was there until afterwards."

The arm- In a game against the Braves, a fly ball was hit to medium right whereupon the runner (Matt Diaz) tagged up at third and raced for home with what would be the tying run. Matt caught the ball and let loose. The throw whooshed virtually trailing contrails on a perfect line to Sandy Alomar, who deftly blocked Diaz off and tagged him to give the Dodgers the win.

Afterwards, Bruce Froemming, who made the out call, declared it absolutely the best throw he'd seen in years. Please remember that Bruce has been umpiring for nearly half a century and has seen it all over that span. Matt himself said, "Actually the ball slipped a bit. I had wanted to one-hop it."

The legs- In another exhibition, Matt lined a ball into right-center and began traveling light. As he rounded first, it appeared that if he hustled he had two. By now he was in overdrive and not only made second, he never paused but kept right on, beating the relay throw to third.

Another time, he hit a routine hopper to short with a man on first. Maury Wills, in camp to work with base runners as he always is, declared, "I leaned over to make the notation about a double play , taking my eyes off the field for a second and when I looked up, there was Matt safe at first."

And Kemp is a right-handed batter without that two-step advantage out of the box that guys who swing from the left side have.

There's a temptation when you see that to think this could be Rickey Henderson in the making but Maury says, "No, he's going to be a power guy- a 3-4-5 hitter so he won't be running all that much because you won't want him, too. But he can steal 20 or more in the big leagues regularly."

The fielding. A national publication -- you know the one I mean -- declared that center field was the only position where the Dodgers didn't have a top prospect.

Someone could write that only if he hadn't seen Matt play center for he can and does do everything you'd want in that spot and does it in exemplary fashion. Little's had him there more than once. If he's in right, it's only to take fll advantage of that arm because Kemp covers center as well as anyone would desire.

In all, he's looked like an outfielder gifted with more sheer playing ability of any Dodger wanna- be since Reggie Abercrombie. At first blush, that may be seen as a rather odious comparison but, wait a minute. Reggie had all the physical tools to become an impact player. It's just that in his case, when he was at the plate, he was as clueless as Inspector Clouseau on a case. The Dodgers got tired of waiting for him to learn so traded him and you know what?, Right now Reggie's the rage of the Marlins camp, hitting .500.

As that current average indicates, Matt also has to develop knowledge when he's up there that he doesn't now possess. He's learning though.

Check his final batting averages. 2003- .270 in the Gulf Coast League; 2004- .288 in the South Atlantic League. 2005- .306 in the Florida State League. The league's get tougher but so does Matt. Oh, yeah, he's developing there at a rapid rate, as well.

They'll be properly cautious, though. That's why he'll go to Jacksonville this spring instead of vaulting ahead before he's ready.

Along the way, basketball has become just a pleasant memory for him. Oh, he's following his former teammate (and buddy) Shelden Williams as Duke seeks the make the Final Four but as for playing the game he used to think was a good part of his future- "I just shot around a little during the off-season. Didn't even play pickup."

No, instead, he traveled from his home in Oklahoma to Arizona to get ready for baseball. And obviously to give Litle and everybody else some tantalizing glimpses of what may well become a very special player.