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Astros wowed by Kemp's effort, if not his size

One Jose Altuve might not be enough for the Astros, judging by their fifth-round pick.

With the 137th overall selection, the Astros took Vanderbilt second baseman Tony Kemp, a diminutive grinder who hits for average and goes hard on the basepaths.

The SEC Player of the Year in 2013, Kemp -- at 5-foot-7 -- looks a lot like Altuve, although he bats from the left side.

Kemp's coach at Vanderbilt, Tim Corbin, said he's "a small package that plays about seven feet tall."

"We loved Tony Kemp," said Astros director of amateur scouting Mike Elias. "The word 'sparkplug' is used quite a bit. He has a ferocious approach at the plate and treats at-bats like they're wars. That wears pitchers out."

The Franklin, Tenn., native moved from outfield to second base during his sophomore season and flourished as an infielder during his junior year. With Vanderbilt still playing in the NCAA Tournament, Kemp is hitting .398 with 64 runs scored, 102 hits, six triples and 33 RBIs.

Those numbers are almost identical to the stats he posted in his first two seasons, aside from a weak batting average in 2012. Kemp is one of only three players in history to win both SEC Player of the Year and SEC Freshman of the Year honors.

He projects as a leadoff hitter with great speed, having stolen 32 bases in his junior season. A patient approach at the dish could make Kemp a valuable top-of-the-lineup mainstay. Defensively, outfield is more likely his future home, and he's shown range and precise routes to the ball during his career.

"It's a sneaky good second base he plays, though," Elias said. "The guys who've seen him repeatedly rave about his defense. He's a grinder and has been an unbelievable performer in the toughest college baseball conference in the country."

Kemp's brother, Corey, played in the Milwaukee Brewers system. It's unclear how easy it will be for the Astros to sign Kemp, though he did get taken higher than most scouts projected.

Kemp could potentially join his Vanderbilt teammate, Conrad Gregor, in the Houston system. Gregor was chosen by the Astros in the fourth round.

"Tony's one of my best friends, and for there to be an opportunity to play together past Vanderbilt, that's something special," Gregor said. "It's like stars aligning for us."

Chris Abshire is an associate reporter for
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