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Kemp has confidence to match talent

Kemp has confidence to match talent

LOS ANGELES -- If Andre Ethier isn't the Dodgers' most valuable player this year, Matt Kemp is.

Ethier's walk-off magic has grabbed the headlines from Manny Ramirez this stretch run, but Kemp has been clutch enough to rack up 10 extra-inning RBIs, the most in the Major Leagues since Juan Gonzalez had 11 in 1991.

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Dodgers at a glance
2009 record: 95-67
2008 record: 84-78
NL West champs
NL best record
NLCS matchup:
Phillies at Dodgers
Postseason tix: Buy now

WHO ARE THESE GUYS?
Loney: Taking good swings
Kuo: Long road back
Thome: Back in Philly
Loney: Building resume
Bullpen: Led by Broxton
Torre: Rep precedes him
Blake: Chemistry guy
Kershaw: Game 1 nod?
Dodgers: Eyes on prize
Kemp: Path of the pros
Furcal: Back healthy
Kershaw: Like Koufax
Hudson: Keeping head up
Billingsley: Unknown role
Ethier: Slump over
Torre: Tough decisions
Kershaw: Elite comparisons
Kemp: Nearly elite
Kershaw: Path to the pros
Billingsley: Fate in balance
Ethier: Aims to improve
Torre: Back to playoffs
Kershaw: Ready to rock
Rotation: Plenty of options
Kemp: Chasing LA history
Bullpen: Dominant pair
Honeycutt: Pitching guru
Kemp: Tools to match talent
Ethier: Walk-off wonder
Billingsley: Vying for spot
Ethier/Kemp: Dynamic duo
Torre: Another pennant race
Pierre: Receives high praise
Kershaw: Beyond his years

Through Sunday's game, Kemp was second on the club to Ethier with 25 homers and 95 RBIs, while leading the regulars with a .307 average (.382 against lefties) and 34 stolen bases. No player in franchise history has had a season with at least 25 homers, 100 RBIs, 30 steals and a .300 average.

Kemp is the true five-tool package. He has the glove, throwing arm and running speed to go along with a bat that hits for average and power. Combine all of those skills with the ability to play center field and Kemp might compare to only one current player, Carlos Beltran, according to Dodgers bench coach Bob Schaefer, who also coached Beltran in Kansas City.

Kemp won't get into the comparisons, aside from listing the players he considered baseball role models.

"Frank Thomas, Gary Sheffield and Ken Griffey Jr.," Kemp said. "When I was a young kid, I was the biggest guy on the team and they called me Big Hurt and I tried to be like [Thomas]. It was cool to tell him that a few years ago when I met him."

Drafted in the sixth round in 2003, Kemp turns 25 on Wednesday.

"The change in him from last year to this year is like night and day," said manager Joe Torre. "He competes every day. When he messes up, it's because he's going forward, not backward. Everything comes easy to him. Sometimes he'll make a mistake. But that doesn't make him back off from his aggressiveness."

Credit Kemp for a sixth tool there -- confidence.

"Got that from my grandma and my mama," said Kemp. "They let me know I was good every day."

Oddly, in his formative years, Kemp said he really wasn't aware of two of his best skills -- his running speed and throwing arm.

"I was a third baseman and a catcher all through junior high until I had a growth spurt," he said. "I never ran. I was the biggest kid and just hit home runs. I didn't start stealing bases until high school. I didn't know I was fast. It really is amazing. In high school, I never ran a 60 [yard dash], never was timed going home to first. Nobody knew I could run. When I figured out I could steal bases was when [manager] Scott Little gave me the green light in High-A. Nobody ever let me run before that. It's kind of surprising.

"And another thing, I never had much of a throwing arm. I talked to a scout once who said I had an average arm. I guess it's because I never played year-round. I was always playing basketball. So in school, I wasn't throwing people out. As I started playing more, my skills developed. Baseball players work different muscles and I finally started working those muscles."

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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