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Matt Kemp's search for the super-player within

March 24, 2011 | 11:32 am

The praise has been pretty unanimous.

Matt Kemp is focused. Matt Kemp is working hard, loose and relaxed, a different player from the one who took a giant leap backwards last season. All systems are go.

So are you optimistic? Hopeful, anyway? Or just a tad leery because you’ve been led this way before only to have to do an unwanted about-face?

Look, so far, so good. Kemp has been the Dodgers’ offensive highlight this spring. Doing the right things, looking more like the player a year ago everyone was so ga-ga over and predicting superstardom.

As The Times’ Dylan Hernandez wrote, Kemp has made the expected connection with new first base coach Davey Lopes, another plus. Under Lopes' tutelage, Kemp told Fox Sports’ Kevin Kennedy he hoped to steal 50 to 60 bases.


This all sounds good. It could be good, heck, it should be good. Even if you feel like you have to cross your fingers and go the bated-breath route.

Kemp got off to a torrid start offensively last year, and we know how that went. Last April he hit .333 with seven home runs and 20 RBI in the first 14 games of the season. Flowers were thrown at his feet.

Then over the next 20 games, he hit .233 with no home runs and two RBI. And since his fielding and base-running were horrid even when he was hitting, now criticism reigned. All prelude to a continued downward spiral that he never truly emerged from until the final five games of the season (five home runs, 12 RBI).

He told Hernandez then:

"I have to pay the fans back, man. They deserve it.

"They've been mad at me all season. I have to do something for them, something special. We all do. Give them a little taste right now."

That Kemp clearly was in a better place mentally, though it’s something of a chicken-or-the-egg bit. Better frame-of-mind led to better performance, or vice versa?

Thus far, he’s kept it going this spring. He lost 15 pounds in the summer. Although he always did the work required before, now he puts in the extra work the coaches wanted to see. Coaches he butted heads with are gone. A tabloid relationship is behind him.

Kemp is 26 now, maturing, giving off the right vibes. It’s spring, of course, which is even before "early" in the season. Before the first slump, the first setbacks.

For now, though, you want to give him the benefit of the doubt. Then for Kemp, it’s only a matter of doing it.

-- Steve Dilbeck