At first glance you probably wouldn’t figure Tony Kemp to be a Major League Baseball player; perhaps an elementary school teacher or the guy at an electronics store who fixes your laptop. At 5-feet-6 and 165 pounds he’s small, even by Jose Altuve standards.
This is not about appearance but about performance. Kemp can play some baseball and we’re witnessing it now on the Major League level. Kemp is the Astros starting leftfielder.
For those who know the Franklin, Tenn. native, it comes as no surprise that Kemp has worked his way to the majors. He attended Vanderbilt University, where he was the SEC Freshman of the Year and a first-team All-SEC performer.
Kemp’s standout play helped lead Vandy to its first College World Series appearance. He followed that season with a 2013 campaign that saw him named All-American and SEC Player of the Year. The Astros selected him in the fifth round of the 2013 MLB draft.
This season Kemp was called up to the majors on May 16 from Triple A Fresno. He had been dominant in the minors hitting .335 with 13 stolen bases in 38 games. He has fit in comfortably as the team’s fourth outfielder, starting regularly in left field. He has used his speed to make highlight reel defensive plays and has hit a solid .300 offensively.
Kemp’s play has caught the eye of Astros skipper A.J. Hinch.
“We’re watching him play exactly how he’s played throughout his whole minor league career,” Hinch said recently. “He just hasn’t had the chance to get regular at-bats in the big leagues. That quality at-bat, that spark at the end of the order, him being on base in front of George [Springer], [Alex] Bregman and Jose is invaluable.”
“This is probably the best chance he’s had in his brief major league career to get some regular playing time, if he contributed. He’s done something positive every day to help us. That makes it easy for me to keep putting him in the lineup.”
Kemp, 26, has had stints in the majors before and is careful not to get caught up in the moment.
“It’s definitely a special feeling, especially coming in the clubhouse every day with what we’ve been able to do – winning 10 in a row on the road. It’s nice to be a small part on the big team.”
Playing on a World Series-winning team with All-Stars like Springer, Correa, Altuve and Justin Verlander could cause a young player to become starstruck. Now in his fifth season in the organization, Kemp said those days are behind him.
While Kemp was a college All-American at second base, he quickly realized that he had to change positions to advance in the Astros organization.
“You have to be willing to play multiple positions if you want to make it to the big leagues,” he said. “If you’re not that first-rounder, that person who’s going to shoot to the big leagues you’ve got to figure out a way to find a spot on a team.
“We already had Altuve so I had to revert back to the outfield. It was basically like riding a bike. I played there in high school, so it was simply a matter of getting some reps in the minor leagues before coming back,” he said.
Despite an impressive college resume, Kemp quickly realized the road to the Major Leagues would be a tough one, especially on a team loaded with minor league talent like the Astros. Patience, focus and a strong work ethic became his motivation.
“Your journey is what you need to run and you don’t need to worry what other people are doing. I simply concern myself with what’s ahead of me,” he said.
“I compare the game to my junior year at Vanderbilt…It’s going out there playing baseball. It just happens to be in the big leagues. Right now I’m just trying to stay consistent, trying to be the best teammate I can and help this team win ball games. I take it day by day and I’m thankful each day for what God has given me.”