Matt Kemp eager to get career back on track with Rockies

Matt Kemp. Credit: Gary A. Vasquez, USA TODAY Sports.

The Colorado Rockies signed former All-Star Matt Kemp last week, and the veteran has made a good first impression with his new team.

Kemp met with the media for the first time since signing with the Rockies Wednesday and acknowledged he is excited to play in a ballpark where he has thrived in the past.

“I have had a lot of success here, this has been one of my favorite ballparks to play in.” Kemp said.

Kemp has posted stellar career numbers at Coors Field, owning a lifetime .327 batting average to go along with 21 home runs and 77 RBI. He is a career .285 hitter, and has been a thorn in the Rockies side for the better part of a decade having played a majority of his career in the National League West.

The signing of Kemp followed Ian Desmond’s decision to forgo the 2020 season. With Desmond no longer in the fold for the season, and the designated hitter being implemented, the Rockies decided to bring the 35-year-old Kemp into the fold.

“It’s a right-handed power bat and he’s got a good sense of the strike zone,” General Manager Jeff Bridich said via The Denver Post. “We’ve seen it for how many years? He’s very motivated to get back on the field and continue his career.”

Kemp played in just 20 games last season with the Cincinnati Reds before a fractured rib ended his season prematurely. Now healthy, Kemp is looking to bounce back in 2020, and play as he did during the 2018 season where he was an All-Star.

The Rockies tried to sign Kemp during the offseason, but he ultimately decided to sign with the Miami Marlins because they presented him with a better opportunity to play consistently. However, Kemp wound up getting cut by the Marlins, and a role opened up with the Rockies after Desmond decided to step away from the game.

“This is just one of those times where everything worked out as far as getting an opportunity to play this year,” Kemp said.

Kemp feels he still has plenty of gas left in the tank at 35-years-old, and the Rockies’ brass agree. Both manager Bud Black and hitting coach Dave Magadan have separately called attention to Kemp’s work ethic bat speed and physical condition.

Nolan Arenado went as far as to say Kemp was Mike Trout, before Mike Trout took the game by storm. If you recall, Kemp hit .324 and led the league in home runs (39) and RBI (126) during the 2011 season, and wound up as the runner up in MVP voting to Ryan Braun, who was later pinched for PED use.

There is no denying Kemp’s talent, but injuries and an enhanced focus on analytics within the game resulted in his opportunities dwindling. After numerous stops with various clubs last season, Kemp will look to find a home within the Rockies’ lineup like veteran sluggers have done in the past.

“I know I still have a lot left in the tank,” Kemp said. “Coming up as a younger guy, there were guys playing at a high level at 35-years-old. Right now I still feel like I can hit with the best of them.”

Players like Jason Giambi, Mark Reynolds, Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau have all found success with the Rockies during the second half of their careers, with Cuddyer and Morneau each bringing home batting titles.

Kemp was better than all of the aforementioned players during his prime, and is just one season removed from making the All-Star team. The market for players in their mid-30s is a lot different in the game today than it was when Kemp first entered the big leagues, and he is striving to prove he cans still play despite his age.

“I am trying to figure out why people think 35 is old,” Kemp said. “When I was first coming up, 35-year-olds were in the primes of their careers.  You just don’t lose bat speed from one year to the next. It gradually happens, and I still think I can play ball at a high level.”

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