Buddy Kennedy Eyes Another Run at the Majors

Like any professional baseball player making his way through the minor league system, former Millville High School standout Buddy Kennedy longed for that special phone call. The one baseball players dream of is the call-up to the big leagues. For Kennedy, who the Arizona Diamondbacks took in the 5th round of the 2017 MLB June Amateur Draft, the call came on June 17, 2022, while he was in the Arizona Diamondbacks system; at the time, he was playing infield with the AAA Reno Aces.

The 5-foot-9, 190-pound Millville, NJ native played in 30 Major League games during his first stint, recorded 94 plate appearances and 18 hits, including two doubles, two triples, and a home run. Kennedy showed plate discipline at the highest level, drawing eight walks. But that performance wasn’t quite enough for the then 22-year-old. Kennedy would start the 2023 season back at Reno, where, in 90 games, he batted .318 with 107 hits, 24 doubles, eight triples, five home runs, and 46 RBI. Again, this was not quite enough for the Diamondbacks front office.

Kennedy would spend the rest of the 2023 season and early 2024 bouncing from the Arizona organization to the Oakland A’s and St. Louis Cardinals franchises, then to the Detroit Tigers system- where Kennedy played five games with the Tigers earlier this season. But on June 7, 2024, Detroit traded Kennedy to the Philadelphia Phillies for cash. He was assigned to the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, where he flourished during his brief time back east.

Buddy Kennedy Eyes Another Run at the Majors

In the first 22 games he’s played since arriving in Lehigh Valley, Kennedy has had 81 at-bats and recorded 27 hits while batting .333, including a through-the-roof OPS of 1.096. It’s tiring just trying to make sense of the journey Kennedy has been through, wearing at least 13 different uniforms over the seven years he has been paid to play baseball. How has it been for him?                    

“It has been [a journey], you’re not wrong,” Kennedy said in a recent interview in the IronPigs dugout before a game at Coca-Cola Park July 2. “Obviously getting drafted out of high school with the Diamondbacks, then obviously starting my professional career…went up the system.

“Made my debut when I was 22 with the Diamondbacks …after that I’ve been up again, down again…I’ve been bounced around. But that’s part of the journey and that’s the business side of baseball. You put your seatbelt on and let it see where it takes you.”

COLLEGE BASEBALL? GRANDFATHER KNOWS BEST  

Kennedy was offered scholarships to play baseball at the collegiate level, including an offer from the University of North Carolina. He may have avoided all the travel and having a go-bag at his front door daily. Kennedy is the grandson of four-time all-star Major League Baseball infielder Don Money, who spent the first five seasons of his 16-year MLB career with the Phillies. Kennedy said he listened to his grandfather and has had no second thoughts about bypassing college.     

Four-time all-star MLB infielder Don Money

“No not at all, absolutely, nope, not at all,” Kennedy said with the determination of a man that has been asked the question more than once. “My grandfather always told me to get in the system as early as you can. The younger, the better you are. That’s what he told me…now I’m 25, I’ve had some experience at the big league level. I’m still young.”

Kennedy was asked if getting called to the Bigs a few times takes the pressure off. At the age of 22, he checked the most important box.

“Exactly,” Kennedy agreed. “Obviously when anybody goes up to the big leagues, you’re nervous. Your dream comes true. Your head’s spinning a thousand different ways.

“For me, obviously the first time was special. Then I went up the second time with the D-Backs, it was more calm, more ‘OK, you’ve been in this arena before.’ You know how to take your time and understand it.
“With Detroit, it was like ‘OK…you’re here now. Try to do the best job you can. I did my best…It’s fun

Kenndy said he remembered lining out to end a Grapefruit League game against the Phillies in 2024…” look at it now, Three months later, here I’m, part of the Phillies organization.”

Kennedy was asked if it was fun to be back in the area.

“Absolutely…absolutely,” Kennedy said. “I grew up obviously in Millville, and a huge Philadelphia fan my entire life. I was watching the Phillies play with Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jason Worth…that team they had…I’ve been a die-hard through and through. I’ve seen the up years the Phillies have had when I was younger and the down years.

“Now they’re one of the best teams in baseball right now. It’s fun to watch for me…for my family, it’s super fun for them to be able to come to these games now and watch me live the dream I’ve always been dreaming about.”

Kennedy said Money, now 77, recently made it to Coca-Cola Park.

Photo by Cheryl Pursell.

“My grandfather came last week,” He said. “He loves to come back to the baseball park. He was a manager, he’s done it…he’s played it 15 years.”

Does Kennedy swing for the fences when Money is in the house?

“No…I would make him happy if I hit a line drive up the middle,” he said with a smile. “That’s all he wants. Anything other than that, he’ll take it.”

WHAT ARE THE PHILLIES LOOKING FOR?  

Kennedy was asked if the Phillies coaching staff talked to him about what they are looking for him to show them after he was assigned to the Lehigh Valley IronPigs.

“Not really,” he said. “You know the situation there. You’ve got (Bryson) Stott at second, (Alec) Bohm at third. They’re their guys. [The Phillies] didn’t tell me anything in particular.

“I talked to Sam Fuld, the assistant general manager when I got traded over here. He said to keep playing hard and you never know what can happen. This game can change in a minute…it’s a matter of time and you being available for when they need somebody.

“That’s all I’m trying to do. Be here. Do what I need to do here, have fun and see what happens.”

Kennedy is not a “long” player. Stott is listed at 6-3, Bohm is 6-5. Kennedy is listed as 5-9 and 190 pounds but seems to play bigger on the field. How does he compensate for length?

“I think it’s just the drive,” Kennedy said. “I think for me…getting to the big leagues is great. But everyone wants to stay, so I’ve always…my father and my grandfather have always told me that…’if you want your dream, and you want to capture something, it’s not going to come easy to you. You always have to work.

“Even when I’m at my best, or at my worst, I always work as hard as I can. Because I know one day it can be snapped away and never have it again. That’s how I always look at it. Give it all.”

IMPROVEMENTS ON DEFENSE

One big reason Kennedy has stayed on baseball executives’ radar is his defensive improvement. Offensively, he has always shown he can hit at every level he’s reached. However, in his first few years in the minors, Kennedy was charged with many errors. Anyone playing second and third base will get many balls hit their way. But his numbers were not acceptable for an aspiring professional.

According to Baseball Reference, Kennedy recorded 14 errors in rookie league play, 13 in his second season, also in rookie league play. In 2019, playing mostly third base for the Kane County Cougars (A-ball), Kennedy was charged 24 errors in 92 games. Those fielding numbers will not do anything to enhance your chances of advancement.

Full Audio Interview

Kennedy said he and his grandfather broke down every play in the offseason and worked to correct his mechanics on the diamond. The errors dropped dramatically. In his 26 Major League appearances, Kennedy has committed just two errors and converted 12 double plays.

“Me and my grandfather actually talk from after I got drafted and each year,” Kennedy recalled. “We would talk about it after the year…What was my error? Was it my throwing, was it my fielding? We would dissect them, and learn from them.

Charged errors in baseball can mirror other sports in how the player charged is not always the bad guy. If you watch football, who hasn’t seen a quarterback throw a strike to his receiver only to see his target let the ball slide through his hands to a defender for a turnover? Even though it wasn’t his fault, the quarterback gets charged with an interception. The same thing can happen in baseball. Kennedy was by no means making excuses. But part of the process is learning to roll with the punches.  

“Some plays happen when it’s just the right play, and maybe it just doesn’t work out,” Kennedy said. “And I get the error. It’s like…it is what it is.

“But overall, my grandfather, we have developed a routine in the offseason. I bought a pitching machine…we do some hand stuff, and drills for an hour, hour and a half for three days a week. And he gets me right, he gets me better.

“He gets me to focus on my hands, relax and for throwing…there was a time when I was younger I was at the point where my feet were on the ground, I’d throw with one foot, I was unbalanced…so we looked at that…and now everything so far…it’s come together.

“I’m just trying to be as smooth and relaxed as possible at any position I play. I try to make the routine plays as best I can…and if the opportunity is there to make a nice play, just make it and move on to the next [play].”

WHO IS MENTORING WHO? 

Major league baseball superstar Mike Trout also played at Millville High School. He was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the first round (25th) of the 2009 MLB June Amateur Draft out of high school, the same as Kennedy. At 32 years of age, Trout is just seven years older than Kennedy. So it should not be surprising that the two have been friends for a long time. The two would and still train at different locations in South Jersey near the Vineland and Millville areas.  While Kennedy’s baseball status is trending up, Trout’s has seen a loss of faith in the 11-time All-Star, three-time American League MVP. That loss of faith is not from his play but his availability.

Mike Trout
Mike Trout

Over the last five seasons, Trout’s games played totals have been disappointing by any measure. Starting in 2021, Trout played in just 36 games. In 2022, he played just 119 games, then in 2023, in just 82 games. This year, Trout was sidelined after playing in just 29 games. On May 3, 2024, it was reported that Trout had surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. He told reporters he wasn’t sure when he suffered the tear but was convinced he would return this season. Kennedy says he stays in touch with his longtime friend and offers encouragement.   

Quotes From Kennedy

“Oh yeah, my guy, he’s good,” Kennedy said. “I talk to him, obviously he’s been hurt. It’s been going on what, the fifth year overall? Obviously the persona people are giving him is he can’t stay on the field. I understand it. He’s as frustrated as anybody because it’s happening to him. He wants to be back to [being] the face of baseball as he once was.

“I talk to him. We stay positive. He’s itching to get back. He’s just making sure everything goes well with the knee. I talked to him the other day and he said he’ll be back by the end of July if everything goes smoothly.

“Hopefully, he gets back in there, and we can see Mike Trout doing Mike Trout things again.”    

Buddy Kennedy takes part in batting practice prior to the IronPig’s July 2, 2024, game against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders at Coca-Cola Park in Allentown. Photo by Al Thompson

Baseball fans will look forward to seeing Buddy Kennedy doing Buddy Kennedy things in a Phillies uniform at Citizens Bank Park….hopefully, sooner than later.

MLB superstar Mike Trout and Buddy Kennedy attended the same high school, Millville High School in Millville, NJ. They have been friends and mentored each other for many years. Photo by Keith Allison from Hanover, MD, via Wikimedia Commons

Al Thompson
Al Thompson

Covers High School, College and Pro Sports for the last 35 years, Writer, radio host and Sports Director at WRDV Radio 89.3 FM in Hatboro, PA. Publisher, Editor of Footballstories The Magazine. Author of “The Gilmore Years.” Email Al Thompson at al.thompson@footballstories.com.

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