Kenley brings power to bottom of the order

By: Matt Jones
Published: Sunday, March 3, 2019
Arkansas infielder Jack Kenley runs the bases after hitting a home run during a game against Eastern Illinois on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas infielder Jack Kenley runs the bases after hitting a home run during a game against Eastern Illinois on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019, in Fayetteville.

— Through 10 games, Arkansas' best power hitter is a player who had never hit any home runs prior to the season.

Jack Kenley's three home runs might come as a surprise to some, but the junior infielder has shown some pop in his bat during off-season scrimmages every year. His lack of home runs might be better explained by a shortage of at-bats - just 84 combined as a freshman and sophomore reserve.

Now the team's starting second baseman, the left-handed-hitting Kenley belted a pair of two-run home runs in Saturday's 15-7 victory over Stony Brook. Aided by a strong north wind at his back, both of Kenley's homers were no doubters.

His fifth-inning home run hit the protective netting in front of the video board in right-center field. His sixth-inning home run landed off the back wall in the opposing bullpen, similar to a homer he hit in a preseason scrimmage on Jan. 26.

"I knew it was coming," Kenley said of his home run potential. "It's no surprise to me.

"I know it's always been there. It's just a matter of getting it out and making sure the wind is blowing in the right direction."

It isn't a surprise to Arkansas hitting coach Nate Thompson, either. Thompson said Kenley (6-0, 185 pounds) has always been one of the team's hardest hitters, but you might not know it because of his size and the fact that he had never cleared the fence in a game prior to the Razorbacks' season opener against Eastern Illinois.

"Jack has always been strong," Thompson said. "He's like a 2 percent body fat guy. Pound for pound, he's one of the strongest guys on the team."

Thompson said Kenley has done a good job "cleaning up" his bat path. A flatter swing has resulted with more power to right field.

"The other thing is that he's confident and he's getting consistent at-bats," Thompson said. "Half of hitting is thinking you can, and he thinks he can."

In addition to this three home runs, Kenley also has a double and a triple, and is slugging .657, which is second on the team to Trevor Ezell (.703) among starters. Kenley leads the Razorbacks with nine walks and is tied for the team-lead with 12 RBI while primarily batting seventh in the lineup.

He has had a number of timely hits this season, such as the two-out, two-run triple that pulled Arkansas within a run, and the two-out RBI single in the ninth inning that gave the Razorbacks an insurance run in an 8-6 victory at Southern Cal on Feb. 22. Against Memphis last week, Kenley started a seven-run rally with two outs in the fifth inning by hitting a go-ahead two-run single up the middle.

With two outs, he is batting .467 (7-for-15). It's a long way from his freshman season when Kenley failed to record a hit in his first 20 at-bats.

In the preseason, Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn hinted at a successful season offensively for Kenley, even going so far as to say the Germantown, Tenn., native will be drafted after the year.

"He's just kind of turned the corner as a hitter, I think," Van Horn said. "Part of hitting, obviously, is thinking you can hit. I feel like he's there.

"We're just glad to see him pulling the ball and being aggressive, and hitting some mistakes and hitting them a long way."

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