USC's Kennedy is Yankees' top pick
Right-hander, 21, brings success, international experience
NEW YORK -- Randy Johnson, Tom Seaver, Barry Zito and Mark Prior are just four of the pitchers that became big stars in the Majors after pitching for the University of Southern California.
The Yankees are hoping that Ian Kennedy follows in his fellow Trojans' footsteps.
Kennedy became the latest first-round pick for the Yankees, who selected the 21-year-old right-hander with the 21st pick in Tuesday's First-Year Player Draft.
"I'm very excited," Kennedy said. "I'm going from, in my eyes, the Yankees of college baseball to the actual, professional Yankees."
Kennedy is the second right-hander taken in the first round by the Yankees in the last three years, joining Philip Hughes, who was drafted out of Foothill High School in Santa Ana, Calif.
"He's a quality college pitcher, he's had a lot of success in college and for Team USA," said Damon Oppenheimer, the Yankees' senior vice president & director of scouting. "We scouted every game this guy pitched this year. In terms of his stuff, we're very happy with it."
Kennedy, whose fastball ranges from 89-94 mph, also features a hard curveball, a changeup and slider, with good command of all four pitches.
"My fastball command is what I've done my whole career," Kennedy said. "I have ability to throw all four of my pitches for strike whatever the count is. If I have to throw a changeup, I'll throw a changeup. If I have to throw a slider, I'll throw a slider. But my fastball has been my bread and butter."
Kennedy's first two seasons at USC were stellar, as he went 19-5 with one save and a 2.70 ERA in 34 games, 32 of them starts.
As a freshman, Kennedy went 7-2 with one save, posting a 2.91 ERA while striking out 120 batters in just 92 2/3 innings.
His sophomore season was even better, as he was named the Pac-10's Pitcher of the Year with a 12-3 record and 2.54 ERA, whiffing 158 in 117 innings.
The 6-foot-1, 195-pound right-hander went 5-7 with a 3.90 ERA in 16 games (15 starts) for the Trojans in 2006, his junior season. Kennedy struck out 102 batters in 101 2/3 innings, as USC went just 25-33, including an 11-13 mark in the Pac-10.
"I was a little inconsistent for the first time since I've been playing baseball," Kennedy said. "It's a learning process. I just had to go with it, show up every day and try to work harder and harder."
Kennedy also brings international experience with him to the Yankees' organization, having pitched for Team USA in 2004 and 2005, as well as the USA's Junior National Team in 2003.
Last summer, Kennedy went 4-1 with a 2.89 ERA for Team USA, striking out 35 batters in 28 innings. In five starts, he allowed nine runs on just 11 hits and 10 walks, holding opponents to a .118 average. He tossed seven no-hit innings against Chinese Taipei on July 15 in Taiwan, striking out nine and walking two in a 1-0 victory.
"We just felt that this was the best guy left on our board," Oppenheimer said. "In terms of pitchers, this guy combines quality stuff with the ability to pitch and success. He's got a good package."
Kennedy was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 14th round of the 2003 First-Year Player Draft out of La Quinta High in Huntington Beach, Calif.
Kennedy is represented by Scott Boras, but the pitcher hopes to sign a contract as soon as possible.
"I would like to go out and play, start my professional career. The earlier the better," Kennedy said. "I imagine it's not going to be very long before I start. At least that's what I'm hoping. If it does take a while, I'm ready for that -- but I want to go out and play."
"I think we're making pretty good progress," Oppenheimer said. "It's a good step for us to do business on the amateur side with Scott Boras."
Kennedy has never been to New York, but he plans to get a first-hand look at Yankee Stadium in the near future.
As for his timetable to reach the Majors, Kennedy will leave that decision to the Yankees, but he plans on working as hard as he can in order to make the ascension through the Minors at a speedy pace.
"I'm just going to try to do what I know I can do, which is pitch," he said. "If they want to bring me up fast, that's fine. It's their decision, though obviously I would like to make it there quick."
Mark Feinsand is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.