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

 

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

Boston's two grand slams in the first two innings were too much for Houston to overcome in ALCS Game 2. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

After a win in ALCS Game 1 that had the prototypical fingerprints of this Astros team all over it, Houston returned to Minute Maid Park on Saturday, hoping to take a dominant 2-0 series lead if they could grab another victory. The Red Sox dashed those hopes very early, though, scoring eight runs across the first two innings to build the lead they would hold on to even the series.

Final Score: Boston 9, Astros 5

ALCS Series (Best of Seven): tied 1-1

Winning Pitcher: Nathan Eovaldi

Losing Pitcher: Luis Garcia

Houston met with disaster to start Game 2

You couldn't have drawn up a much better start for the Red Sox or a worse one for the Astros in Saturday's ALCS Game 2. Luis Garcia met early disaster in the top of the first inning, allowing a leadoff double, then got two outs while issuing two walks to load the bases. That brought up Boston's designated hitter, J.D. Martinez, to the plate, and he delivered a crushing blow to Houston, launching a grand slam to put the Red Sox up 4-0 before Houston could even get to the plate.

After a scoreless bottom of the inning by his offense, things got worse for Garcia in the top of the second, as after issuing a four-pitch walk to start the frame, he would become the center of a meeting at the mound with trainers, ultimately leaving the game with an injury. Houston opted to bring in Jake Odorizzi for the emergency call to the bullpen, but things did not start well for him either. He would put two of his own batters on base with two singles, then gave up the second grand slam in as many innings, this one to Rafael Devers to double Boston's lead to 8-0, doubling down on Houston's disastrous start to the game.

Odorizzi rebounded with a 1-2-3 third, but with one out in the top of the fourth allowed a solo homer to Kiké Hernández, his third homer of the series so far. He would still get the job done of eating up a few innings, finishing the fourth, and retiring Boston in order in the fifth, giving Houston just four more innings to cover with the rest of their relievers.

Astros get a few runs back

Over that span, Houston did trim the lead by three runs, getting an RBI double by Kyle Tucker and a two-RBI single by Yuli Gurriel in the bottom of the fourth, making it a six-run game at 9-3. Their next reliever was Blake Taylor in the top of the sixth, and he would keep the score where it stood by sitting down the three batters he faced that frame.

The Astros threatened again in the bottom of the sixth, getting two singles to put two aboard, but would come out empty, sending the game on to the seventh, where Taylor would remain on the mound. He faced three more batters, getting two out while allowing a single before Yimi Garcia would come in to get the third out.

Red Sox even the series as it shifts to Boston

Garcia returned in the top of the eighth, getting through that inning despite a walk and hit by pitch, stranding both runners. Boston's bullpen kept Houston from getting any closer in the bottom of the eighth, then Ryne Stanek came in for the Astros in the top of the ninth. Stanek allowed a leadoff double, but with a groundout and double play, held the score at 9-3. Yuli Gurriel and Jason Castro did their part to keep the Astros alive in the bottom of the ninth, each hitting solo homers to make it 9-5, but that's as close as they'd come, dropping Game 2 to tie the series at one game apiece.

Up Next: The ALCS now moves to Boston for the next three games after a day off on Sunday, with Game 3 on Monday at 7:08 PM Central. While the Astros have named Jose Urquidy as their starter, the Red Sox have not yet determined theirs.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome