Houston Astros 2017 Center Field Candidate: Tony Kemp
In my last article, I hit on what I thought a Potential 2017 Astros Lineup could look like. Most people who read the article were stuck on 2 things: the position switch of Carlos Correa to 3B and having Tony Kemp as the starting CF. A paragraph explanation doesn’t provide enough evidence to support Kemp being the starting CF, and everyone already knows the Correa/Bregman/Moran conundrum. Kemp absolutely deserves to have a shot somewhere in Houston, and CF seems to be it, so let’s dig into why it would be the perfect option.
Tony Kemp went to Centennial HS in Tennessee where he lettered in Football and Baseball all 4 years. As a junior in baseball he batted .470 and followed it up by batting .540 as a Senior. After his senior season, Kemp signed to play baseball as an OF for Vanderbilt. In 2011 as a Freshman, he won SEC Freshman of the Year, was a Freshman All-American and a member of the All-SEC team. As a Junior in 2013, with Vanderbilt in need of infield help, Kemp moved from OF to 2B. His junior year he batted .391 with an OBP of .471 with 37 SBs and 104 hits, enough to earn him the SEC Player of the Year title.
The Astros drafted him to open the 5th round in the 2013 Draft. As a second baseman for the Astros farm system, Kemp has spent the past 3 years shooting up the minor league hitting for a high average everywhere he’s played. While he doesn’t offer much power, he wows with his contact hitting, batting .273, .316, and .308 with OBPs of .366, .411, and .388 in his last 3 years respectively. He’s been a hit machine and hasn’t slowed down in 2016 through 13 games, batting .341 with an OBP of .463 for AAA Fresno.
Moral of the story is, everywhere Kemp has played, from High School to the Minor Leagues, he has been a guy that can help his team win. He is what people call a “One Man Rally” due to his ability to find ways on base and get into scoring position by stealing a large number of bases. Someone of that caliber deserves every chance necessary to find a way into the lineup for their respective team. The Astros know this, which is exactly why last season they started playing Kemp back in CF in hopes he could continue what he started as an OF at Vanderbilt, which he has.
Defensively he’s one of the best in system. Last season he had only 3 errors in 431 chances playing 2B/LF/CF for 2 different teams all season, and all 3 came when he was playing 2B with Corpus Christi. His defense added with his bat should make him a prime candidate to eventually take over CF for Houston. For the moment though, CF is occupied, but fans could be calling for someone different soon.
No one that has watched Houston play needs to be told that Carlos Gomez has under performed since the trade to Houston last year. He has, at times, been reckless at the plate and on the field, having hit and run the Astros out many rallies. On top of this, he is a free agent at the end of the 2016 Season, so his time in Houston will most likely be coming to a close soon, whether it be at the end of the season or sometime in between. No center fielder in the minor league system right now is ready to make the jump to the Major League Club, and while Marisnick is a plus defender, his bat leaves more to be desired.
For 2017, center field is wide open, which should give Tony Kemp his shot to prove what he can do in the majors without having to open the bank on a free agent for center field. As we all know, at 2B Kemp is blocked by Jose Altuve, and Kemp is too good to play only as a bench bat. The only other option is CF, and Kemp has enough athleticism to succeed on defense wherever he plays as well as at the plate, even for a guy without any power. If Carlos Gomez continues to underperform, the Astros might want to see what else their farm can improve, but regardless, once Gomez is gone, Kemp absolutely deserves to be the next man up.
**Photo Credit: Tammy Tucker**