2022 is the opportunity Tony Kemp has been waiting for

This is the opportunity Tony Kemp has been waiting for. No established veterans in front of him to hog up playing time. No Jed Lowrie. No Josh Harrison. Just the chance to be an everyday second baseman and crack 400 plate appearances for the first time in his career. 

Beyond Starling Marte, Kemp was the A’s most electric player by the end of last season. In 60 games (38 starts) and 171 plate appearances after the All-Star break, Kemp recorded an eye-popping .325/.398/.457 slash line with four homers, 19 RBI, 17 walks and 14 strikeouts. In the field, it seemed like he made a showstopping web gem – whether it be diving or contorting his body in some other fashion – on a daily basis. 

Entering 2022, Kemp is probably the biggest fan favorite in the lineup and the best overall position player on the team until Ramón Laureano returns from his 27-game suspension.

Kemp also will have the added benefit of dad strength this season. Kemp’s wife, Michelle, gave birth to their first child, McKenna, in December and his daughter got to watch him play for the first time ever during Wednesday’s game.

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The little one picked a good game to make her ballpark debut, because dad was balling out. Kemp has been on a heater to begin spring training but Wednesday’s performance was his best. He went 2-for-2 for a double, a walk and scored all three times he reached base.

Kemp led the game off with a walk before stealing second and advancing to third on a throwing error, before scoring on a Sean Murphy single. That’s a classic Rickey Run right there. 

In the third inning, Kemp led the frame off with a single before moving to third on an Andrus single and scoring on a Murphy sac fly.

In his final AB, Kemp hit a ground-rule double and scored on an Andrus triple.

It’s still early in spring training, but Kemp is 4-for-7 to begin the Cactus League with a double in each of the three contests he’s played so far. A small sample size, sure, but that 2021 success doesn’t look like a fluke. 

Expect to see plenty of Kemp in leadoff this season, as he had one of the most judicious eyes in the game last year. In 2021, Kemp slashed .279/.382/.418 to lead the A’s in batting average and on-base percentage. But it’s his 52-to-51 walk-to-strikeout ratio that’s most impressive to me. Among players with at least 200 plate appearances last year, Kemp’s 1.020 BB/K ratio rank was third best in all of baseball, behind Juan Soto (1.559) and Yasmani Grandal (1.061).

Last season’s 131 games played and 397 plate appearances marked career highs, but he should surpass those this year if healthy. He has earned a reputation as a utility player through the first six seasons of his career – and can still play in the outfield if needed – but should shed that label and become a bona fide, big league everyday second baseman this year. 

Kemp posted a .240/.402/.333 slash line against southpaws, and slashed .290/.375/.443 against righties. He could get exposed against left-handed pitching in an everyday role but that on-base percentage (97 plate appearances) eases the concern a bit. He draws walks against everyone.

Beyond all that, Kemp is so much fun to watch flying around the field and is always smiling. At the price of $2.25 million this year, the A’s low-key have a local star in Kemp.