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Post-Hype Player to Watch: Tony Kemp, IF/OF, Houston Astros

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Trade, Trade, Trade

MLB: Spring Training-Houston Astros at Boston Red Sox Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Houston Astros are really good. Duh, they just won the World Series. They followed a championship formula on their way to a, well, championship, and when the dust settles on the 2017 offseason and the 2018 MLB season comes around, they will not only be back at the top of the food chain but still loaded with organizational depth.

It’s remarkable, really, considering Houston’s expenditures in the trade market prior to Justin Verlander did not work out extremely well. They lost Domingo Santana, Josh Hader and Brett Phillips for a lousy season of Carlos Gomez and while Ken Giles has mostly been a winner, they surrendered Vince Velasquez and whatever you want to make of 2013 first overall pick Mark Appel to acquire him.

Verlander cost the team potential ace Franklin Perez, bonus baby Daz Cameron and catcher Jake Rogers. No slouches there but Houston still has a dynamite farm system and the trade clearly worked out and will continue to do so.

Surely a “good problem to have” but the Astros are facing a playing time crunch regarding their next wave. At least one or two of outfielders Derek Fisher and Kyle Tucker, infielders Colin Moran and J.D. Davis and others will be squeezed out or traded.

The latter extremely possible for perhaps Gerrit Cole or Chris Archer or Raisel Iglesias or perhaps Matt Harvey. That list certainly gets less likely as it goes on but the Astros are in a perfect position to reload after reloading.

Somewhere in-between the Tucker/Fisher duo and Ronnie Dawson/J.J. Matijevic is the extremely fast and extremely versatile Tony Kemp.

MLB: Houston Astros at Los Angeles Angels Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Kemp, 26, is barely qualified for post-hype because he’s only garnered 157 at-bats at the big league level. Which is nothing to go on. However, he’s seemingly been forgotten in the massive fold of talent in the Space City.

A top 13 entry in Mr. Sickels’ 2015 and 2016 Astros lists, Kemp was selected in the fifth round in 2013 as a second baseman from the Vanderbilt baseball factory.

With Jose Altuve on board, Houston tried Kemp in the outfield, a natural fit for the plus-plus-plus-runner but to date he’s still mostly played second base in the minors.

However, with the Astros, he’s mostly played left field (47 times) followed by five appearances at second and centerfield. He’s DH’d nine times in the stacked Houston lineup.

With all the prospects —graduated and still in the system— along with George Springer, Josh Reddick and Jake Marisnick in the established outfield and Altuve, Alex Bregman, Marwin Gonzalez and Moran in the infield, it’s going to be exceedingly tougher for Kemp to find his place as a member of the organization that drafted him.

The MLB sample size is terribly small but the 26-year old has nothing left to prove in the MiLB circuit.

There, he’s a career .310 hitter with a .388 OBP, finishing fourth in the talent-packed Pacific Coast League last season with a .329 batting average. His 24 steals tied for third and 95 runs scored earned him a third place finish.

There are holes in the 5 foot 6 Tennessee native’s game. With that size, he wasn’t blessed with a power bat but the left-handed, leadoff-capable hitter has walked 238 times in his MiLB career.

He’s toiled at Triple-A Fresno since 2015 and without a spot at the big league level, a trade is truly his only hope to becoming anything close to a regular. His speed, discipline and glove mark him as someone who could fill out the end of A.J. Hinch’s bench, but I believe there’s more at store here than that.