With virtually half the roster struggling to some degree, the Astros made some moves following another heartbreaking, late loss in Boston on Sunday. Gone are catcher Erik Kratz and outfielder Preston Tucker. Evan Gattis returns to catch and, hopefully, hit, and a new face is joining the gaggle of speedy outfielders. But what to make of Tony Kemp?
Pumping the Gas
Tony Kemp just hits. He hit .336/.433/.468 in Lancaster, and then .322/.416/.423 in Double-A. Sure, he may have hit a little bump up in Triple-A last year, but this year has been a different story; he's slashed .298/.410/.405 for the Grizzlies in 2016.
What do the Astros need right now? They need someone who can hit like that. Homers are all well and good, but when you have a man in scoring position, a homer is a luxury; a base hit is the necessity. The Astros haven't had nearly enough solid contact in the bottom half of the lineup, what with Jason Castro (32.1%), Carlos Gomez (34.8%), Jake Marisnick (41.9%), and Erik Kratz (46.7%) striking out and stranding runners left and right. Tony Kemp has struck in just 14.6% of his Double-A and Triple-A plate appearances.
That's not even to mention the walks he draws and the bases he steals (100 bags in just 361 games). Jason Castro currently has a better wRC+ than Buster Posey despite just a .209 batting average. A big walk rate can cover up a lot of faults. He doesn't have power, but he might have everything else, and that's everything the Astros need; just watch what happens when another .350 OBP is injected into the bottom of the lineup ahead of Jose Altuve.
He can play center field and left field, and even second base on occasion. When Altuve is hitting as well as he is, it might be wise to DH him on occasion to keep him fresh and healthy. Preston Tucker was basically limited to left field and DH. The Astros just gained some hitting ability, some contact, some speed, and some defensive diversity. This is a clear win all around.
Pumping the Brakes
Tony Kemp has done some nice things, but he's never done anything special. Empty batting averages come and go, and frankly, we can't even be sure of the average at this point. He started slowing in lower A-ball levels, then hit well inside Lancaster (who doesn't?). At Double-A, he started below .300 before shooting up to .358. At Triple-A, he started at .273 before jumping to .298. Notice the trend? It's not a stretch to think he might not hit initially at the Major League level and, if all goes well, increase his average to being simply a league-average rate with on power. That would be a below-average profile on the whole.
Logic says you probably can't expect much more, and it will be empty; Kemp has hit 10 long balls outside of the California League in 1,287 plate appearances. That's about 4-5 per season with a full Major League seasons' worth of plate appearances, and it's against minor league competition.
And while it's easy to look at raw stolen base numbers, we know now that a base stealer can end up doing more harm than good if they're not successful enough. Kemp may have stolen 100 bases in the minors, but with just a 70% success rate, he's far from elite in that department. And after three years in the minors following a career at a prestigious baseball program like Vanderbilt, one has to wonder if any more improvement in that area can be expected. He was just 3-for-7 prior to the call up this year, by the way.
And it should be mentioned that, while he has played multiple positions, most reports have him as an average defender at best. He doesn't have the arm for short or third, much less right field, and his routes have been questioned. He'll make some spectacular-looking catches, but anyone who remembers Adam Everett will tell you the truly elite defenders are often so because they can field balls cleanly and unspectacularly that the more average players have to dive and fly for. Don't expect plus defense here. In fact, don't expect plus anything here; Tony Kemp simply hasn't shown a truly plus tool at any time.