Creight Expectations

Patrick Creighton: Will Tony Kemp finally get a real shot with Astros?

Tony Kemp deserves a real shot for the Astros. Bob Levey/Getty Images

Back in 2014, the Astros has a 22 year old prospect they drafted in the 5th round the year before who was slicing and sprinting his way through the team’s minor league system.

Tony Kemp was a small 2B out of Vanderbilt, who managed to go from Low-A Tri-City in the New York Penn League to Double-A Corpus Christi in a season and a half.  While not a home run hitter, his blazing speed and bat control showed him to be a player who hit for a strong average while generating extra-base hits, and he also displayed a keen eye at the plate.

His final stat line at age 22 between High-A Lancaster and Double-A Corpus Christi:

.316 AVG  .411 OBP .859 OPS  

8 HR  58 RBI  121 Runs Scored  30 Doubles 8 Triples   41 Stolen Bases

For those of you wondering – that’s one hell of a year.  Kemp was a player.

The Astros, to their credit, knew Kemp could play, but they had a dilemma.  They already had a small second baseman that could hit like a champ for high averages, get extra base hits and steal bases.  They certainly weren’t about to ask him to change positions. So they began experimenting with Kemp.

As 2015 evolved, Kemp advanced his way from Double-A Corpus to Triple-A Fresno.  He also began to see more time in the outfield. Kemp has incredible speed but an average at best arm.  However, his ability to go get it defensively saw him make a career high 27 starts in center field, as well as five more in left.  Kemp continued to hit, blowing up at Corpus to hit .358 in 50 games before his promotion and a solid .273 at Fresno afterwards.

To be fair, Kemp doesn’t have a great arm for the outfield.  However, he rarely makes mental mistakes, rarely commits errors, and is noted for his hard work and hustle.

In 2016, Kemp continued to hit at Fresno, slashing a .306/.389/.396 line with a .785 OPS.  Those solid numbers got him a call up as a bench player to the big league team, where he didn’t hit well but did display his eye at the plate.

In 2017, Kemp was a player to watch for the team.  Kemp tore up Fresno to the tune of .329/.375/.470 with an .845 OPS while having his best power season in the minors with 10 HRs, 23 doubles and 9 triples.  He also stole 24 bases. Kemp had proven everything he needed to prove at the minor league level, but the Astros lineup was so strong in 2017, he was merely a September call up, receiving only 39 sporadic ABs with the big league club.  

Before being called up May 16, Kemp was again tearing up triple-A pitching, hitting .335/.407/.435 with an .841 OPS in 38 games with the Grizzlies.  He also scored 33 runs while banging out six doubles and five triples in 161 ABs. Kemp has also stolen 13 bases a month and a half while only being caught twice.

So what is left for Kemp to prove?  Well, nothing. That’s the problem.

As baseball, and particularly the Astros, shift to a more analytical model of evaluation, players like Kemp get devalued.  Analytics favor power hitters, and downplay the value of the stolen base. Speed is less desirable than homers in that model.  Kemp has speed in spades but not much power. He’s exactly the kind of player analytics minded executives discount.

However, Kemp is a proven commodity in the minors.  He has hit and fielded at every level, he’s been a model citizen, is recognized for his terrific work ethic and leadership.  He has earned his shot.

With Jake Marisnick being optioned (he is back now due to Josh Reddick's injury) due to poor performance and Derek Fisher struggling badly at the plate (batting .176 with 37 Ks in 74 ABs), it’s time for A.J. Hinch and the Astros to give Tony Kemp his long overdue shot at regular playing time.  

High average/high on base hitters are often undervalued.  On a team like the Astros with four top hitters, a player like Kemp should be welcomed.  He gives them a guy to drive in. So far, in his first 15 at-bats, he is hitting .400 with 6 RBI and a stolen base.

Sometimes the analytics can be overrated.  A blend of analytical data, traditional evaluation and common sense will always work best.  Tony Kemp can play. Here’s hoping he gets a real shot and makes the most of it.

Patrick Creighton hosts “Late Hits” weeknights 7-9p on ESPN 97.5 Houston; “Straight Heat” weeknights 9p-12a CT & “Nate & Creight” Sundays 12-5p CT on SB Nation Radio/SportsMap 94.1 Houston.  Follow him on Twitter: @pcreighton1


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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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