So it's no big surprise that Tri-City Manager Ed Romero refers to Kemp as a leader. Romero likes the Division 1 Vanderbilt experience that Kemp brings, "He's been in a good program in a winning atmosphere." Romero acknowledges that Tony has been working on his defensive skills at second base and is getting better, but Kemp's other skills have him excited. "He's a guy that has a lot of speed. He [has] a good eye at the plate, good discipline and [he] knows how to steal bases. He can score runs and pretty much set the table for the other guys down the order. He's going to be a big plus for this club."
Tony Kemp - July 2013
Photo by Jayne Hansen
I spoke with Tony earlier this month and here is what he had to say (edited for brevity and clarity) ~
On the Draft: "It was a great experience, very exciting and indescribable moment at the same time. My former teammate Conrad Gregor went in the fourth round and then the next round later, I went to Houston in the fifth round, so it was kind of a surreal moment."
On Gregor: "He's a great guy. He's always in tune with the game. Never misses a beat. Works out relentlessly. Like a machine out there."
On his college experience: "The three years at Vandy changed my life. I couldn't imagine coming into this situation without being at Vanderbilt University. The three years under Coach [Tim] Corbin, Travis Jewett and Josh Holliday ... I owe everything to those guys because they took me under their wing and showed me everything. I'm still learning about baseball right now, but they taught me a lot of things [about hitting and infield and defense]. It was just a great time. We won the SEC twice and went to Omaha one of those times, first time in school history, and got two World Series wins. It was a great time. College was awesome."
On switching from outfield to second base: "My sophomore year, Riley Reynolds had a foot injury and our coach asked me if I played infield and I said the last time I played infield was middle school at shortstop. So he just kind of kicked me out there and said 'go swim.' I went out there and it was rusty at first because I haven't gotten a ground ball in four years or something like that. It was about sophomore year around May sometime [that] I started playing second base."
On comparisons to Jose Altuve: "He's an unbelievable player. I don't even think we can be compared because he's so much better than me. I heard he came through here [Tri-City] and he was an unbelievable player and he works really hard. If you are being compared to someone like that, you just want to work as hard as they do and try to do what they did."
What has been the biggest surprise in his short time in pro ball?: "I think the biggest surprise is maybe how much other teams pay attention to detail. I would say in stealing bases, teams call pitch outs in smarter counts. They're really watching everything you do, your body language, if you're going to steal. Or on defense, which guys covering the bag. Or even with hitting, what they throw in what counts. I think the teams just pay a lot more attention to the player they're pitching to."
What does he bring to the game?: "I'd probably say energy and excitement. One of those things, an intangible thing. There's a lot bigger guys than me. I'm just a little guy out there, just trying to play hard every day. If you have a bad game the day before, if something didn't go your way, you always have the next day. I think that's what's good about pro ball. You've got to have a short term memory. If you can't do it defensively, make sure you try to do it offensively and vice versa."
What is he working on improving?: "I think, from the hitting standpoint, just making sure that you're not giving at-bats away, making sure that you're not just going up there swinging at the first pitch you see and making weak contact. You've got to make sure that you're staying within your approach and you're not going outside that. From a defensive standpoint, I think that you can always get better in all aspects of the game, knowing the [hitter's tendencies]. So there's a lot of things when you're out there that you've got to make sure that they're going through your head constantly, I think just mentally staying in the game for every pitch."
What Astros pitcher would he least like to face?: "I'd probably say Bushue. He does a really good job of pitching in on people's hands and he goes hard in and soft away. He does a good job with that so I think it would be tough to face him if I ever got the chance."
Something most people don't know about him: "I'm a candy fanatic and I think if I don't have candy for two days, I go on a candy binge and I eat probably Skittles, Twizzlers, all that good stuff. Skittles is my favorite candy, but other than that I go Swedish fish or maybe a ring pop."
As a final question, I had to ask Tony exactly how tall he really is. He answered, "How tall am I really? [I'd say] 5'8" when I had my old hair with the Afro, but I'm going to go 5'6½". I'll leave it at that." And I'll leave it at that as well.
Thank you for your time, Tony, and the best of luck as the season continues.