2013 stats: 73 games played, .270 average, .328 OBP, .395 slugging, six home runs, 33 RBI.
The 2013 season was another marred by injuries for Matt Kemp, whose 73 games played was his lowest total since 2007, which was his second season with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Kemp nearly played the first two months of the season before going down with a hamstring injury on May 29 and was placed on the 15-day disabled list. However, the injury kept the center fielder out of the lineup until June 25.
Upon his return from the stint on the DL, Kemp managed to play in just 10 games before being sidelined with a shoulder injury. Kemp was back in the lineup on July 21 and flashed early indications that he was capable of replicating his 2011 season. He went 3 for 4 with a home run and double, but a lackadaisical attempt to run home from third base resulted in a sprained ankle from which he would never recover. Kemp would return for an 11-game stretch in September, but the Dodgers then announced he wouldn’t play in the postseason because of the severe damage it could cause to his still swollen ankle.
Signed to an eight-year $160 million contract but unable to stay on the field, rumors began to swirl during winter meetings that the Dodgers were entertaining trading Kemp. General manager Ned Colletti later refuted the rumors and the Dodgers began Spring Training with all four outfielders. Kemp wound up undergoing off-season ankle surgery and wasn’t able to play in Spring Training. Despite that, Kemp caused a bit of a stir when he proclaimed he wouldn’t be the team’s fourth outfielder.
The 2011 NL MVP runner-up has however been able to steadily progress with his rehab without suffering any setbacks. Kemp began with just taking at-bats, then added running to first and shortly after was making brief appearances in intrasquad games. That included his first time playing center field since the surgery, which Kemp described as “weird.” The injury-riddled center fielder then played a full game in center field, but’s continued to struggle at the plate. With the progress Kemp has made, ESPN’s Buster Olney said he believes Kemp will be ready to play within the first 10 days of the season.
2014 outlook: If Olney’s prediction is correct, a glimpse into what Kemp has to offer may be seen a lot sooner than many would have initially guessed when Spring Training opened. As the Dodgers only true center fielder, Kemp’s ability to remain healthy will be instrumental to the team’s success. Additionally, as the Dodgers experienced last season, having four outfielders isn’t a luxury, it is a necessity.
What may aid Kemp’s comeback bid is the Dodgers no longer need him to be “the man”. While the 29-year-old undeniably will be expected to contribute, initial pressure may be alleviated as he works to get reacquainted at the plate due to the presence of Adrian Gonzalez, Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez. If Kemp is able to play a minimum of 100 games, the offensive stats should come and he should have a successful season.
ICYMI: Yasiel Puig talks about adjusting to life in the United States