After late change of plans, Dodgers draft speedy outfielder Kendall George 36th overall

Kendall George during the WWBA World Championship.
Kendall George is shown during the WWBA World Championship on Oct. 10, 2021 in Jupiter, Fla.
(Mike Janes / Associated Press)
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Kendall George’s high school baseball career began with a challenge.

As a freshman at Atascocita High School, located just outside of Houston, the speedy outfielder clocked a 60-yard dash time of 6.4 seconds during his first year on campus in 2020 — an impressive mark for professional players, let alone a skinny 14-year-old kid.

Yet, his coaches pushed George for more, setting a goal of 6.2 seconds that they hoped he would accomplish by senior season.


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As it turned out, they wouldn’t have to wait nearly that long.

Just one year later, George recorded a stunning time of 6.21 seconds as a sophomore, according to his father, Chris. It was the first of many expectation-shattering moments that propelled the young prospect up draft boards and scouting watch lists.

“I’ve been coaching for 25 years, and he’s by far the best runner I’ve ever had,” his high school coach Eric Matthews said. “It’s electric, game-changing speed.”

And on Sunday, it all led to a draft-night fairy-tale.

With their first pick of this year’s MLB draft, the Dodgers selected George 36th overall in Competitive Balance Round A, snagging the 18-year-old outfielder far earlier than many in the industry — and even Goerge himself — expected him to be taken.

“I was always going to be a Dodger at the end of the day,” George said. “But getting bumped up to that first [selection], it was definitely a surprise.”

Indeed, earlier in the night, the Dodgers told George they were planning to take him with their second round pick at 60th overall — a spot that would have been more in line with where most scouting services had ranked him entering the draft ( rated him the 65th-best draft prospect, while Baseball America listed him at No. 114).

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Alas, when other players the Dodgers liked went off the board early, the team turned its attention to George.


They loved his speed, which kept improving as an upperclassman, making him perhaps the fastest player available in this year’s class.

They were impressed by his approach both at the plate and in pre-draft interviews, drawn to his outgoing personality and easily evident work ethic.

And even though they had only ramped up their interest in him a day prior — “I really found out they were interested about maybe 24 hours ago,” George said, “so it was a big surprise for me” — they decided not to risk losing him to another team, as well.

Minutes before the Dodgers’ first selection — which was dropped 10 spots in the draft order as a luxury tax penalty — George got a call at his home in Texas where he was watching the draft with a few family members and learned he would be selected at 36th overall instead.

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“It happened like five minutes before I got drafted,” George said.

Added Chris, his father: “That was a shocker … But he was more than happy to oblige.”

Just like that, George became the highest high school position player drafted by the Dodgers since shortstop Gavin Lux in 2016.

And just like Lux — who also entered pro ball as an athletic but raw teenage prospect — it will be George’s ability to couple speed and contact ability with improved power and strength that will dictate his ability to one day make it to the big leagues.


“We have big hopes for him,” Dodgers vice president of amateur scouting Billy Gasparino said, noting MLB’s new small-ball-minded rule changes made George a particularly enticing prospect. “He checked so many boxes for us.”

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With their other draft pick Sunday, the Dodgers took University of Virginia third baseman Jake Gelof in the second round, snagging a right-handed power hitter who broke school records during his 48 homer college career.

That was a more traditional selection, the team getting a more experienced player later in the draft than many pundits expected (Gelof was ranked 35th in the class by and 40th by Baseball America)

“We identified him early in the year as one of our favorite college bats,” Gasparino said. “He kind of made it easy on us.”

It was the George pick, however, that opened the most intriguing possibilities for the Dodgers on Sunday night.

First and foremost, the club is getting a player with a potentially high ceiling. In addition to his speed — Gasparino said George is the fastest player the club has drafted since he took over the scouting department in 2015 — George wowed scouts with his instincts in center field and bat-to-ball capabilities from the left side at the plate.


The recent high school graduate has also begun the process of bulking up, telling reporters he has added 15 pounds of muscle since last fall. He has excelled against high-level pitching, too, batting .364 for Team USA’s national squad at the Under-18 World Cup last September.

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“He wants to be an elite player, not just an elite runner,” Matthews said. “And it’s been fun to watch him grind and be passionate about where his deficiencies are, and what he has to do in order to get better.”

Picking George came with another apparent benefit.

While Gasparino didn’t provide specifics, the club appears likely to ink George to a signing bonus below his designated slot value of roughly $2.36 million.

Doing so would save the Dodgers money in their overall signing bonus pool — they have just under $7.3 million to spend on their top-10 round selections — that could be reallocated on later-round picks to come Monday, when Gasparino said they will likely target more high school players who will have to be persuaded to forgo their college commitments.

“I think our guys have identified some really solid candidates to use some of those picks and monies on,” Gasparino said, adding: “George will give us a little flexibility doing that.”

George had his own college plans, set to play at the University of Arkansas starting next year.


However, he wasted no time Sunday declaring that he is “100%” planning to sign with the Dodgers instead, eager to translate his speedy skill set to pro ball after experiencing a far shorter draft night wait than he ever imagined.

“He was always a target for today,” Gasparino said. “But the way the draft unfolded, we just didn’t want to lose him. We valued him that much.”