The Runner Sports

Tony Kemp: Astros’ Young Gun With Big Pop

The Houston Astros have a 5’6″ player who once hit a game-tying RBI double and scored the winning run after doubling again three innings later. Jose Altuve?

That would be a good guess, but those crucial game-impacting plays are attributed to 2B/OF Tony Kemp on Tuesday, September 20th, in Oakland.

Video: See Kemp’s 1st double, Tuesday, as it just dribbled into CF

The Astros snuck past the A’s, 2-1 in 10 innings, Tuesday.

Related: Kemp in Astros’ ‘Bizarro World,’ Part 1: Which Prospects Fill In?

Kemp’s pinch-hit/LF Tuesday heroics rightfully earned him a start in Wednesday’s 6-5 win over Oakland, as the Astros swept the 3-game series, and won 5 of 6 on their west coast road trip. Kemp tripled in 3 ABs in Wednesday’s game.

In fact, Kemp has started in left field for three straight games, counting Friday’s (September 23) home game vs. the Angels. He was in the starting lineup Sunday, and clobbered his first career home run in the 5th inning, off Daniel Wright.

Video: See Kemp’s first career homer from Sunday

Video: View Kemp’s triple, Wednesday, into RF corner

Video: Watch Kemp’s fine defensive play in LF (Wednesday’s game)

Speaking of the 4-time All-star Altuve, he picked up his 201st hit of the year in the same game (Tuesday), his third straight campaign hitting that rare benchmark stat (It was announced Wednesday afternoon that the MLB office awarded Altuve a hit from the 9/16 Seattle game, where an error was originally given to Kyle Seager; Boston’s Mookie Betts leads MLB in hits, with 208; Altuve has 207, entering games of 9/25).

Related: Altuve or Betts, AL MVP: Coin Toss or Slam Dunk?

In fact, shortly following Tuesday’s game, Kemp, 24, classily and selflessly tweeted his congrats to 2014’s AL batting champ, signing off as “#5’6Club.”

Related: Jose Altuve’s Grand: Fastest Astro to 1,000 Hits

At the aforementioned height, Kemp shares Altuve’s weight, as well, at 165 lbs, give or take a couple dozen ounces.

Houston drafted the left-handed hitter in the 5th round, out of Nashville’s Vanderbilt (22 miles from home) in 2013, and made the lifelong St. Louis Cardinals fan a sudden fan of the Bayou City Nine.

Born in Franklin, TN, as a Halloween baby in 1991 (Karyn White’s “Romantic” was Top 40 #1 that week), Kemp attended Franklin’s Centennial High School, and was a three-sport star: Baseball, football, and basketball.

Watch: See rare (mostly football, but some hoops and baseball) video of Kemp at Centennial, as well as personal and behind-the-scenes photos 

At Vandy, Kemp focused on baseball, and Coach Tim Corbin once had this to say about his 2B star: “Tony is a special talent. It takes a rare athlete to make a move from the outfield to second base in the middle of the season and play it proficiently. His physical tools are uncommon and his positive personality is infectious. He is one the most exciting players we have had in our program in quite sometime.”

Video: Watch interview with Kemp (with 4″ Afro!) from his Vandy days, Junior year, 2013: He sings, he twerks!

Well into his minor league career with Houston, Kemp was moved “back” to the outfield, as Astros’ brass was aware of his experience there at Vanderbilt, and of course, realizing Houston’s 2B role was filled by the immovable Altuve.

Summer Kemp

Kemp began his pro career by climbing the conventional steps in the Houston system, from the New York-Penn League’s short season Tri-City Valley Cats (2013) to Triple-A Fresno (parts of 2015 and ’16).

Kemp’s 5-team minor league stats feature a .304 BA over 396 games (1522 ABs), with 100 extra-base hits (1 XBH each 15.2 ABs), and doubles prevailing over homers, 66-15. His 19 triples hint not only at his speed, but his corner- and alley pop. Kemp is a more than adept slap-type hitter, quick-wristing hits anywhere between the lines.

Stolen bases are a Kemp staple, as his minor league total reached 107 in 153 attempts (70% success rate).

Drawing nearly as many walks as strikeouts in his MiLB career (203 BBs, 213 Ks), it’s clear Kemp employs a strong knowledge of the strike zone, while (like Altuve) taking advantage of the smaller zone afforded by their height.

Scouting reports, like this one from FanGraphs, focus on the tools Kemp brings to the game: “His high-contact approach should continue to work against big-league pitching, and his plus speed should allow him to play an adequate (out)field.”

The Dynasty Guru pulls out this telling stat from Kemp’s 72 games with the California League’s (Advanced-A) Lancaster JetHawks in 2014: “His 19.4 percent line drive rate was third highest and 4.1 percent infield fly ball rate was ninth lowest, both of which underscore his propensity for hard contact.”

Up and down a couple times this season, Kemp was promoted from Fresno on August 7, to fill the void left on the roster by the release of the embattled Carlos Gomez.

With the Astros, Kemp is hitting .228 in 101 ABs (entering games of September 25), with limited starts. His K/BB ratio is not where he’d like it to be, at 24-11, but it’s likely his walks would increase given more, even regular, playing time.

Kemp is spending this late season Astros playoff push proving his value to the team as a pinch-hitter, spot starter, and late-inning defensive replacement. Houston should have no problem opening with Kemp securing a spot on the roster that includes more playing time, and possibly starting in left field. It’s unlikely the team will re-sign Colby Rasmus, and a spring battle for left with fellow rookie Teoscar Hernandez seems likely.

Related: ‘Stro Wars: A New Hope: Teoscar Avoids Oblivion

The personification of the “spark-plug” type player, look for Tony Kemp to provide more than one game-breaking play, especially if the Astros manage to push their way into the playoffs.

NEW: March Magnets! Strong 2017 Astros Roster Repels Kemp’s Iron-Clad Spring

Brad Kyle

Brad Kyle

Here I am, meeting with Nolan Ryan at Dell Diamond in Round Rock, TX. One of us is trying to convince the other to take his 90 mph fastball, and get back into the game.

Needless to say, I've decided to spend my golden years, instead, crooning Sinatra at nursing homes, while reflecting on a life well-lived in the classroom, spinning rock'n'roll in '70s radio stations, and peddling wax in the record biz.

I'm a Houston native, having attended 'Stro games in Colt Stadium, the beloved Astrodome, and Minute Maid.

Join me at TRS for full Astros coverage, minor league peeks, player profiles, interviews, MLB historical perspective, and surprises!
Brad Kyle