Fresno Grizzlies newcomer Tony Kemp has quickly gained popularity.
Among fans, teammates and coaches, and all the way back to Texas, too.
From his high energy in the clubhouse to his high-flying defense, the center fielder has many taking notice — including Houston Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow.
“His energy, his excitement,” Grizzlies manager Tony DeFrancesco said, “it’s been good for us.”
In just his second game before a Fresno crowd, Kemp showcased some spectacular defense.
Not just once. But twice.
During the top of the fifth Friday against Las Vegas, Kemp robbed ex-Grizzly Johnny Monell after sprinting about 40 yards and diving for a catch at the warning track.
Kemp popped right up and flashed the wide smile he often displays on and off the field.
“While I was running, I glanced at the wall and knew I had about three, four steps until I couldn’t dive anymore,” Kemp said. “I looked up and the ball was in my glove. And I was like ‘Wow. I got it.’”
Kemp received a standing ovation.
Later, after reaching first as a runner, the 5-foot-6, 165-pounder had a chat with 6-foot-2, 230-pound Brandon Allen, Las Vegas’ first baseman, that led to more laughter.
Allen congratulated Kemp on his catch. Kemp smiled and apologetically asked if it was Allen whom he’d robbed. Allen shook his head no.
“Good thing for me,” Kemp recalled saying. “I wouldn’t want to do that to a big guy like you.”
But he did do it, in the top of the ninth.
Though the Grizzlies trailed 11-4, Kemp wasn’t about to relax. On a shot to center, he crashed into the wall after a leaping catch that robbed (of all possible players) Allen.
Allen, halfway to second, threw up his hands and kiddingly yelled, “I thought you weren’t going to do that to me.”
Kemp smiled again and couldn’t help but laugh.
“Yeah, that was funny,” Kemp said. “Kind of paid for it with my ribs later, crashing into that wall. But it was fun. You don’t get to play baseball for a long time. You might as well do it with a lot of energy and with a smile on your face.”
Kemp’s defensive catches were shown on MLB Network
When Kemp went to check his phone after the game, he found 30-plus texts, voicemails and Tweets. By Saturday morning, the plays had been on MLB Network.
And Luhnow retweeted a clip with a “Wow.”
Kemp, 23, also entered Saturday hitting .368 with six steals in eight tries.
The Vanderbilt product earned a promotion after hitting .358 in Double-A. After starting off at second, he has moved to his more natural position in the outfield in light of regular L.J. Hoes’ injury.
“Kemp is like one of those super-utility guys,” DeFrancesco said. “He’s making amazing plays and he’s been good with the bat.”
Tony Kemp file
- Position: Outfield/second base
- Age: 23
- Height/weight: 5 feet, 6 inches; 165 pounds
- Bats/throws: L/R
- Drafted: Fifth round in 2013 by the Houston Astros
- School: Vanderbilt
- Joined Grizzlies: June 11 from Double-A Corpus Christi