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MadFriars Q&A: Padres pitching prospect Brett Kennedy

Starter Brett Kennedy became one of the first members of the Padres 2016 draft class to reach the California League by impressing through an early run in Fort Wayne. We talk with the righty about his progression, adjusting to the professional game, and how he balances information and feel for the game.

Since the Padres drafted Brett Kennedy out of Fordham with their eleventh pick in last year's draft, the righty has stood out for an advanced approach and good feel on the mound. After working in very limited exposure in Tri-City last summer, the 21-year-old from New Jersey had the reins loosened this spring.

He quickly earned a promotion from Fort Wayne to Elsinore by posting a 2.54 ERA and 38 strikeouts in 28.1 Midwest League innings. We caught up with Kennedy in the clubhouse at Lake Elsinore.

MadFriars: Clearly the way things went for you with the TinCaps has to have felt really good. How do you feel about the early promotion?

Brett Kennedy: Going to the Midwest League for my first full professional season, you don’t really think about moving up and down at that point. But at Fort Wayne, I just tried pitching my game and going as deep into games as possible. But your main goal is to make it to the big leagues, not to make it to Elsinore or Double-A or Triple-A. So you want to craft your work to do that, and I didn’t think about getting promoted or anything like that.

What were your priority focus areas working with Burt Hooten out in Fort Wayne, and how did that line up with what you’d done with the coordinator group?

Brett Kennedy: Burt’s main goal is that he doesn’t want you to be comfortable with mediocrity. I’m someone who works off my fastball and in a bullpen sometimes, I’d maybe get comfortable with hitting a spot, but not perfectly. And he’s the guy who’s going to remind you to stay perfect. He was a great big league pitcher, and it’s nice to hear his work ethic and what he’d do. Stuff like that just rubs off, in working every day to be a better pitcher. He wants you to play at a Major League level and something like that gets you ready at a low level.

You talk about working from your fastball. Do you throw both a two- and four-seam fastball?

Brett Kennedy: The two-seam is something I worked with Prior and Jungle to throw more this spring. In college I didn’t really need it, but I’m starting to throw it more and more as the season goes along. My fastball’s been my best pitch. But my last start [in the Midwest League], I threw a lot more sliders and working in different pitchers. As a starting pitcher, if you’ve got a good fastball you can get groundball outs and that’s a good thing.

Where are you sitting with it for velocity?

Brett Kennedy: I think I was in the 90-94 region  with the four-seamer, and 90-91 with the two.

As we come up on one year since your draft day, what have been the biggest things in terms of adjusting to pitching professionally.

Brett Kennedy: I think one of the big things is getting used to a routine. And if you throw bad in one outing, it’s such a quick turnover to try and forget about it. In college, one bad outing can hurt your team in one game and your stats for the year, and with the draft process, you take it as more of a big thing than just one day of a week. In pro baseball, just getting over – and that’s one thing Burt worked on - if it’s a bad start, you’ve got to forget about it and move on.

That, and trusting your fielders. You’re playing with some of the best guys in baseball behind you. At first I was trying to strike out every hitter and I had a couple walks in my first two starts. But finally getting used to letting the fielders behind you do the work, and that’s great.

What did the early spring minicamp experience mean for you, both from a development perspective and in terms of getting to know guys and fitting in the system?

Brett Kennedy: I was very thankful to be invited. You know, that’s not just something that you expect that you’re going to be there. But once I got there, you’re with the big league guys and you get to see first-hand what they do to prepare. I saw Tyson Ross and guys getting loose in the weight room and how particular they are about doing each part of their body and getting ready for each day of practice. And then working with our coordinators one on one two weeks earlier was a great advantage, and by the time spring training starts, you feel like you’re in the middle of things.

And as a Northeast guy, I went from pitching outside inside in the snow throwing against a fence to throwing in Arizona in big league facilities, so it was amazing.

At what point in your progression collegiately did you start to think, okay I may have a chance to get to the next level?

Brett Kennedy: For me, it’s always been work to get what I want. In high school, I didn’t have too many offers. I went to a small, academic school at Fordham. My freshman year I wasn’t a big recruit, but I worked myself into the rotation. And my velocity jumped, so by the time of my sophomore summer going into my junior year, I knew I had a shot. And then junior year, scouts coming in – it’s an eye-opening experience. First, seeing them there, then getting over the fact that they are and just pitching. So I had a pretty decent season my junior year I would say, so by the end of the year I knew I had a pretty good shot of getting drafted. But I’d been told anything between the fifth and 35th round, so I was weighing my process. When I got drafted early on day three, it was an easy decision.

Are you working with Fordham to finish up your degree?

Brett Kennedy: Yes. I went back to school in my offseason and got one semester done. I have four classes left to get my degree in business administration with a concentration in management. My GPA is something I strived on as well – and something I think helps you me on the field as well.

With the amount of data that’s available, even at this level and then certainly so much more as you go up, how much do you look at the information that’s out there and how do you look at metrics while still knowing you have to pitch to your own strengths?

Brett Kennedy: Operations is something that my brother’s done coming out of college as a finance guy in New York City, and he’s a big baseball mind and a very smart guy, so he was on me at a young age to learn about that. And it’s something that I think is becoming a bigger part of the game, but I think you have to weigh it out. You go into games, and I feel like you can see and learn a lot off reading the hitter and the situation. So you’ve got scouting reports, but then you go out there and you can read off an at-bat. I think it’s a big part of the game, but I hope it doesn’t take over.

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