If Kody Clemens makes it to the major leagues, he’s sure to be a favorite. He’s a mentally tough player who checks all the boxes for “gritty dirtbag” status. He brings an in-your-face, Ian Kinsler-ish attitude with him to the diamond that makes him a lot of fun to watch. And yes, his dad is legendary pitcher Roger Clemens, who will presumably, at some point, be inducted to the Hall of Fame.
Bloodlines aren’t everything, though. They come with as much pressure as opportunity. Clemens earned his position on our list here at Bless You Boys with a standout debut in his first year in the organization. However, the road to the major leagues will get a lot tougher this season. What exactly does Clemens offer on the field? Let’s take a look.
Clemens spent three years at the University of Texas, but he didn’t contribute in a big way until his junior season. He broke out in 2018, hitting at an otherworldly rate of .351/.444/.726. He was a huge presence on the team during the Longhorns’ dramatic postseason run and was taken by the Tigers in the third round of the 2018 draft.
His entry into the minor leagues was a dramatic one. He bolstered a limp Whitecaps offense with a .302/.387/.477 performance that registered as being 45 percent above league average by wRC+. A batting average on balls in play of .342 may indicate that he had a little luck on his side. That figure is typically only sustainable for the most skilled speedsters. However, it was a good way to start his career, and it earned him a cameo in High-A to finish the season.
As you would imagine, Clemens is ahead of the curve offensively. He offers a well-rounded offensive package that begins with a hit tool that should top out as average. He’s at home in the batters’ box, using a comfortable swing to stroke balls into play. He doesn’t have a problem with ground balls and uses a pull-happy swing to drive balls into the outfield.
It would be easy to get carried away by his minor league stats, but successes in Low-A don’t portend future .300 seasons for the middle infielder. His swing is a bit too long for that kind of a future. Clemens faced better, more polished pitching in college than he did in his pro debut, so keep expectations at a reasonable level. His work in 2018 was largely a prelude. That said, he shouldn’t have much trouble making enough contact to stay afloat.
There’s also enough power projection to make the profile work. There’s a surprising amount of strength in his 6’1”, 170 pound frame and he’s consistently able to leverage the ball into the outfield. Bat speed is the more important part of power projection, though, and he has enough of it to at least call it an average tool as well. That solid combination of skills makes could him a valuable contributor at the major league level, especially at a particularly thin position in the organization.
Clemens offered his take on his success in an interview with Bless You Boys:
“Plate discipline — that [is] the key. Seeing the ball well and making sure I’m swinging at the right pitches, [that’s] just it.”
The plate discipline that underpins his skill as a batter is an attribute that too many prospects never develop. Plenty of talented players have washed out because they lacked the patience and eye to take their walks. That shouldn’t be a problem with Clemens, who posted a stellar 0.78 walk-to-strikeout rate with the Whitecaps.
Clemens has plenty of experience in the infield but he isn’t cut out for high-end defensive work. He’s a second baseman for now, and looking strictly at his glove, there isn’t any real concern about his viability at the position. There’s more to the equation, though. He’s a below average runner already, which limits his range on defense. If he chooses to add bulk in order to maximize his power output, that could slow him down further, thereby lessening his defensive value.
A transition to third base isn’t in store for Clemens. He could be a very good defender there as his all-out style would work well for the position. The problem would be his arm. Part of what moved him to second base to begin with is a mediocre arm, which would play down if he had to man the hot corner. That means that right field isn’t an option either.
If he had to move off the position, left field seems like the natural destination. His offensive profile could work there, where he could profile as a second division regular. His lack of range could be a roadblock, but he holds nothing back on the field, which compensates for that somewhat. In short, although his value to the organization is far greater as a second baseman, it isn’t out of the question that he ends up patrolling the outfield grass.
Finally, the issues with the length of Clemens’ swing, and the pull-heavy approach, could end up being exploited when he reaches the upper levels of the minor leagues. So far, his educated eye and quality pop have pushed those concerns into the background. While the bat looks like it should play, it’s not a foregone conclusion, and there is certainly plenty of risk in the profile. Clemens has to hit, and he has to hit for power. No other element of his game is going to help carry him.
Projected 2019 Team: High-A Lakeland Flying Tigers
Clemens throttled Low-A pitching staffs, but he hit a bit of a wall upon his promotion. His rate stats took a nosedive, especially his strikeout-to-walk ratio. But despite a middle infield logjam in the high minors, the Tigers will probably be aggressive in their development of the second baseman. He will probably start in Lakeland to allow things to sort themselves out with Toledo and Erie, but a midseason promotion wouldn’t be out of order once it becomes clear who will be the odd man out.
After all, Clemens will turn 23 in May, and the Tigers have a track record of pushing their college draftees through the minors. He has enough tools to succeed and it is possible that he’ll be in contention for a top-ten spot in the system at this time next year despite its improving depth.