Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays' Kiermaier wants to add better offense to all-around game

BOSTON — A telling measure of how far Kevin Kiermaier has come from being a 2010 31st-round pick out of Fort Wayne, Ind., is the kind of questions he has been facing lately.

For example, whether to keep using the Rawlings glove that sports the gold-embossed label in recognition of his selection as the American League's best centerfielder, or to switch to the one he has been breaking in that is accented in platinum in honor of additionally being named the top overall defensive player.

For another, whether he should keep the Platinum Glove trophy in the Rays clubhouse for his teammates to share in or take it to his Tampa condo. (The Gold Glove will be on display at the Trop's Ted Williams Museum so fans can see it.)

"Good problems to have," Kiermaier said, laughing.

It's pretty much all good for Kiermaier, who — three days from turning 26 — has gone from being the 941st player in his draft to one of the most dynamic players in the game.

Sure, given how recklessly he plays, the financial security of a long-term contract would be nice, especially after he got just a $600 raise from last year to $514,400. And you'd think his athleticism, good looks and extreme fan appeal would lead to commercial endorsements, even playing in the smaller Tampa Bay market. (The Gap? FedEx or UPS or some other speedy package delivery? Fresh Kitchen, where he loves to eat?)

But he's the first to tell you he couldn't be more pleased with how "awesome" his life has become.

And how much better of an all-around player he wants to be.

"It's one of those things where I'm so confident in my defensive ability and I know I'm going to run the bases — even though I've had a few aggressiveness issues, I'm not worried about that, I'll learn from that," Kiermaier said.

"But pretty much the story line of my career is going to be my hitting."

Take that as a good sign that he's catching on. With unparalleled ability in centerfield — between how much ground he covers and how well he throws — and game-changing speed on the bases, the factor that will determine how much impact Kiermaier eventually will have, and how big a star be becomes, will be his offense.

Kiermaier may not become an MVP threat like the Angels' Mike Trout, but he can be a more consistent offensive force. Even before stumbling to a slow start this season, he was working on it.

"I was watching some video of my 2014 campaign, my rookie year, I could see I was confident back then but I'm so much more confident now because of how much I matured offensively, how much better I am," he said.

"It's nothing that's going to jump out at you on paper, but I've matured so much with my mental process, and my overall swing itself has been so much better. … It's all about really having a feel for what the pitcher is going to do to you in certain situations. I didn't have that thought process at the start of last year, or all of 2014. I was just a raw type of player."

His primary goal is consistency, which is what it will take to move up from eighth in the lineup as he prefers.

His speed can be an offensive weapon, but he doesn't just want to be primarily a slap hitter or bunter. Nor does he want to surrender his natural aggressiveness to walk more. He sees himself as also having "occasional" power, evidenced by his 10 homers in each season and his true delight of hitting a ball in the gap and legging out a triple.

So while pleased with his 2015 performance — a .263 average, 10 homers, 40 RBIs and .718 on-base-plus-slugging percentage (with only a .298 on-base) — he was a long way from satisfied.

"I know there was a lot more I could've done," Kiermaier said. "I know that I can hit. And I'm going to hit.

"Having a good couple months here and there last year, it pretty much means I can hit .370 in a month and I can hit .200 in a month. I know I can do it. I want to be consistent in my approach and my at-bats, to drive in runs, get on base, whatever is needed in certain situations."

So while he beats himself up over the gravity-defying catches he doesn't make, and knows there can be some tightening up on the bases, the true measure will be how much better he does at the plate.

"I know I'm a relatively young player, but I'm not using that as an excuse," Kiermaier said. "I'm ready to mature, and I want you guys, I want everybody to see that. And I think time will just tell with all that."

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

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