Matt Kemp figures 35 is the new 25. Or, at the very least, the new 30.
Asked about his bat speed and ability to produce at his age, the newest Rockie seemed perplexed, or maybe just amused.
“I was just trying to figure out why people think 35 is old,” the three-time all-star outfielder said Wednesday. “When I was first coming up, 35-year-olds were in the prime of their careers. You just don’t lose bat speed, just from one year to the next. You notice it. It gradually happens. I still think I can play baseball at a high level.”
Kemp signed a minor-league deal with Colorado last week. If he makes the team, he would be used predominantly as a designated hitter and right-handed power bat off the bench.
Kemp, however, is definitely in a prove-it mode as the Rockies rush toward their season-opener July 24 at the Texas Rangers. He had a disappointing, injury-plagued 2019 with Cincinnati, appearing in just 20 games and hitting .200 with one home run. Kemp said a fractured rib contributed to his struggles. After getting released by the Reds on May 4, he was signed by the New York Mets but was released July 12.
“I got released when I had a fractured rib, so I didn’t really get a chance,” he said. “It was only like 40-something at-bats, and everybody has struggled a time or two in 40-something at-bats.”
Kemp, however, also struggled during the shortened 2020 Grapefruit League season, slashing .143/.200/.143 with 11 strikeouts in 30 plate appearances for the Miami Marlins this spring. The Marlins chose not to sign him to their 60-man pool, but the Rockies, who watched Kemp destroy them for many years as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers, still believe he can produce.
“It’s a right-handed power bat and he’s got a good sense of the strike zone,” Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich said. “We’ve seen it for how many years? He’s very motivated to get back on the field and continue his career.”
Rockies hitting coach Dave Magadan predicts Kemp will “do some damage, especially against left-handed pitchers.”
“What I have seen so far, the few days that he’s been here, is that he’s still got bat speed and he’s still got a really good idea of what he’s trying to do at the plate,” Magadan said.
Kemp was an offensive force as recently as 2018, hitting 25 home runs and slashing .290/.338/481 when he reunited with the Dodgers and made the all-star team.
Throughout his 14-year career, Kemp has raked at Coors Field and punished Rockies pitching. Against Colorado, he has a career average of .314 with 46 home runs in 663 at-bats. At Coors Field, he’s hit .327 with a 1.005 OPS and 21 home runs in 333 at-bats. During an intrasquad scrimmage at Coors on Wednesday, Kemp ripped two hits off the right-center field wall against right-hander German Marquez, Colorado’s best pitcher.
“I do hit the ball well in this ballpark,” Kemp said. “I see the ball really good and I like the batter’s eye with the trees. It’s just one of those ballparks where I really can get locked in.
“And if I was struggling any time, and I knew we were coming to Colorado, this was a place where I was like, ‘Man, I could probably get locked in right here.’ ”
One of the most memorable days of his career came in LoDo on Aug. 14, 2015, when he hit for the cycle as a member of the San Diego Padres. It wasn’t just the first cycle of Kemp’s career, it was the first cycle in Padres history, coming in the franchise’s 7,444th game.
Footnotes. Marquez has not officially been anointed Colorado’s opening-day starter, but manager Bud Black came close on Wednesday. “He’s in the mix,” Black deadpanned. “You wouldn’t be off base to talk about that possibility.” … Count right-hander Jon Gray as a pitcher who does not like the universal designated hitter. “I’m not a fan of it,” Gray said. “If it was up to me, I would take baseball back to the way it was in the 1940s through the ’60s and play that over again.”