Tony Kemp may only measure 5-foot-7 from cap to cleats, but the Quad-Cities second baseman enjoys the view from the top of the River Bandits’ batting order.
“There’s a challenge leading off, trying to set a tone for everybody and I like that,’’ Kemp said. “The flip side is that if things don’t go well, you’re also the first guy to have a chance to go 0-for-2.’’
In general, things have been going well for the Nashville native who was selected by the Astros in the fifth round of this year’s draft after earning player of the year honors in the Southeastern Conference for Vanderbilt.
He’s batting .286 for the River Bandits since being promoted Aug. 5 to the Midwest League following a .282 start through 48 games with short-season Tri-City.
“When I signed, I had no idea where this year would lead, but it has been exciting, a great adventure so far,’’ Kemp said. “I expected the competition at this level to be good, and I knew coming in that I was going to have a chance to be part of a team that had plenty of talent and had the ability to get to the playoffs. It’s a good environment to be around.’’
Kemp, who led the SEC with a .391 batting average, 34 stolen bases and 64 runs in 66 games this spring, has been trying to keep things simple as he adjusts to the pro game.
“It feels good to have a wood bat back in my hands,’’ Kemp said. “I didn’t set any numerical goals or have any feel for where I might end up at the end of this season this year. I’m taking things one pitch, one at-bat at a time. I’m learning every day and in the coaches here, I’ve got good people to learn from.’’
From his leadoff spot, Kemp tries to help his teammates as well.
“You’re sort of the guinea pig, the first guy to get a look at the opposing pitcher,’’ Kemp said. “I do what I can to tell the batters down the lineup what the ball is doing, what his change-up is doing, that type of thing that can help.’’
Quad-Cities manager Omar Lopez likes what he has seen from Kemp at the top of his lineup card.
“He’s been a productive player for us there,’’ the River Bandits manager said. “He’s a real competitor and has been able to get on base, steal a few for us and he helps get our offense going.’’
Kemp is trying to soak it all in, working as part of a starting infield which typically includes a pair of first-round draft picks in shortstop Carlos Correa and first baseman Bobby Borchering as well as fourth-round selection Rio Ruiz at third.
“When I look around me at the big-league potential, it pushes me to work harder and improve,’’ Kemp said. “You want to perform at their level and the thing about it is that they are all great guys, willing to help however they can, and that has been helpful.’’
Second base was not the position Kemp began his college career at, shifting there from the outfield near the end of his sophomore season at Vanderbilt.
“I hadn’t played anywhere in the infield since middle school, so it was a change for me,’’ Kemp said.
He credits Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin and his coach with the Cotuit Kettleers in the Cape Cod League, Mike Roberts, for helping him learn how to play the middle infield position.
“They worked a lot on teaching me to get the glove out there, how to be ready for whatever comes your way,’’ Kemp said. “When you play the infield, you are involved in the game all the time, positioning yourself when there are runners on base, knowing where to be when a pickoff is a possibility, understanding who is covering what in a particular situation. There has been a lot to learn.’’
While Kemp compares his leadoff role to that of being a guinea pig as he tests opposing pitchers, he has been following his own personal guinea pig into pro ball.
His brother, Corey Kemp, was a 14th-round pick of the Brewers in the 2008 draft and during a career which reached the AA level, he spent 108 games in 2009 batting .282 for Wisconsin in the Midwest League.
Six years older than the River Bandits infielder, his experiences in baseball have helped prepare Tony Kemp.
“He’s shown me the way, given me an idea of what this is all about and that’s been important,’’ Kemp said. “Even back when I was playing T-ball, he made me hit with a wood bat. That bat was so old and everybody else was using aluminum, but he was always telling me it would make me a better hitter. He knew, and I appreciate that every day.’’