PHOENIX -- At the northwest end of the Los Angeles Dodgers' spring-training clubhouse, several steps from the rear exit, is a wooden stall that shortstop Dee Gordon calls "the Big Dog locker."
Manny Ramirez used the space for two springs. After his drug-tainted departure, Rafael Furcal took up residence.
Now, with Furcal playing for the St. Louis Cardinals, Matt Kemp is occupying this corner parcel of real estate that serves as the team's spiritual center.
Kemp understands the significance of where he sits.
"I'm not saying I have to be a leader, but I want to be a leader," Kemp said. "I want to win bad. If it takes me being a leader and stepping up and saying something that needs to be said, then I'm going to do it."
As position players reported to camp Monday, joining the pitchers and catchers who had been there for six days, rap music blared out of Kemp's locker.
Kemp made his way around the clubhouse the way Ramirez used to in the days of Mannywood. He visited with backup catcher Matt Treanor and a couple of nonroster players in one corner. He took a seat next to Gordon. He walked to the opposite side of the clubhouse and exchanged laughs with a group of relief pitchers.
"I see he's becoming more and more comfortable in being a leader," General Manager Ned Colletti said.
Kemp, 27, appears less guarded than he was as a younger player who received occasional criticism from veteran teammates because of his demeanor. He talks to almost everyone, and he is constantly smiling.
"Obviously, he's going to be here long term now," manager Don Mattingly said, referring to Kemp's new eight-year, $160 million contract. "Having more and more success, he gets more comfortable with his role."
Similar to Ramirez and Furcal, Kemp said he wants to set a playful and relaxed mood in the clubhouse. Hence, the songs by Tyga and Kanye West.
"For me, I play better when I'm having fun, I'm relaxed and I'm not thinking about too many things," Kemp said. "I think most people are that way. Music, whatever it takes for anyone to relax and have fun and play their game, not think so many crazy things."
Colletti said he saw Kemp transforming into a leader during his MVP-caliber season last year. Staff ace Clayton Kershaw said Kemp's performance -- he hit .324 with 39 home runs, 126 runs batted in and 40 stolen bases -- won over teammates.
"With Matt, it's all about what he does on the field," Kershaw said. "When your best player is out there every day, not saying anything about being hurt, playing at a high level, people respond."
Kemp has played in 365 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the major leagues.
"Matt sets the tone," Mattingly said. "When he's playing hard and getting down the line and busting his butt every day, it's really hard for anybody else to say, 'I can't do that.' "
Mattingly has told Kemp stories about coaching Derek Jeter and the New York Yankees.
"I really feel what's happened over the last 10 years in New York is really because their best player, Jeter, plays hard every day," Mattingly said.
Kemp has said he models himself after Juan Pierre, who played with the Dodgers from 2007-2009. Pierre was pushed to the bench by Kemp and Andre Ethier, but maintained his reputation as the team's hardest-working player.
Kemp is now a role model himself, particularly to Gordon, 23, the club's second-year shortstop.
"We talk about everything," Gordon said. "Everything about being a professional. The stuff that Juan Pierre taught him."
Gordon reported early to spring training. So did Kemp.
Gordon said hearing of Kemp's new nine-figure contract over the winter was a source of inspiration.
"Oh my gosh," Gordon said. "You don't understand how much he motivates me just to be a better person, be a better pro. I was fired up to see that he got blessed. It was something he deserved."