Black Sox Beat Writer
Chicago Sports Online
San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic - Paul Kemp isn’t supposed to be on the mound.
He was drafted in the second round by the Huntsville Phantoms (as the Chicago Black Sox were known in 2039) as a so-so fielding outfielder with dynamic hitting skills. And he still has those: contact, gap power, home run power – he has them all.
And yet, it’s on the pitchers’ mound that he’s made his biggest impression.
Last season, in fact, he quickly emerged as the ace of the starting staff for the Monclova Aqua Sox, Chicago’s Rookie League affiliate.
“Quickly? Try his first game,” said Elliott Bilodeau, manager of the Aqua Sox. “He told us he could pitch, so we thought, what the hell. We let him throw a little for our scouts and pitching coaches, and good lord – he blew them away.”
Of course, throwing some decent pitches in front of coaches in the bullpen is one thing.
Throwing in a game is something else.
“We had him pitch in some intra-squad scrimmages, and he impressed the hell out of us there,” Bilodeau said. “I checked with the folks in Huntsville to see if they had any thoughts about trying him as a two-way player, and they gave us the thumbs up.”
All he did was go out and throw 10.1 innings of shutout ball, scattering 6 hits, walking 3 and striking out 3. He didn’t get the win - Monclova ultimately lost the game 2-0 in the 12th.
But it was clear from then on that Paul Kemp wasn’t just an outfielder who pretended to pitch a little on the side.
“Yeah,” said Kemp, a lanky 19-year-old with a laid-back, almost sleepy demeanor. “That was a crazy day. I just kept going out there, inning after inning, and getting ‘em out, and Elliott stuck with me. I finally hit something like 107 pitches in the 10th and he came out to the mound and said, ‘Son, that’s enough. You put in an honest day’s work out here.’ I guess I had to agree.”
Asst. GM McGuffin
He struggled, though, to balance the pitching with his other role, as a DH several times a week. He slashed just .210/.246/.395, and the front office wondered if it would need to make a choice about which path to pursue.
Indeed, scouts still feel his future is brightest as a hitter – they currently peg him as 6/8 contact; 5/8 gap power; 4/7 home run power; 4/4 eye; and 7/8 avoiding K’s. Going into this season, there was some worry that splitting his time might cause his hitting skills to diminish.
To ease the road a bit, coaches recommended that Kemp be moved up to San Pedro de Macoris, the Short Season league affiliate in the Dominican Republic.
“The idea was to take it a little slow, to continue letting him work at both disciplines, but in a slightly less pressure-packed environment than full-season A ball,” said Bill McGuffin, Black Sox assistant general manager.
“Paul’s a rare talent, but he’s only 19 – we don’t need to throw him in the deep end. We thought we could see how he does this season with the Green Sox and then make a decision on his two-way status.”
So far, so good.
At the plate, Kemp has been hitting the way coaches expected him to: he’s slashing .367/.404/.633 in 13 games and 52 plate appearances.
“We give him some time off after he pitches, to let his arm recover, but that doesn’t seem to bother him, so far,” said San Pedro manager Gustavo Hernández. "He's kept his focus at the plate just fine."
How about his work on the mound?
Although San Pedro pitching coach Roberto Amador was a little skeptical at first, he provisionally penciled Kemp into the No. 2 spot in the rotation – and, once again, the youngster has emerged as the top starter on the staff.
Kemp is 5-0 with a 2.31 ERA, and scouts peg his “stuff” at 3/4; his pitch movement at 6/8; his control at 3/7 and his stamina at 6. He’s a groundball pitcher with a cutter that clocks in at 88-90.
McGuffin says the Chicago brain trust still isn’t entirely sure, either.
“You know, we weren’t really thinking of him as a pitcher when we drafted him, anyway. So excuse us if we’re still feeling our way a little bit,” he said.
Kemp, for one, doesn’t see the problem.
“Hey – I like to pitch, and I like to hit,” he said. “As long as I get the job done, why can’t I do both?”
A fine question, of course. And one Black Sox leaders are asking themselves seriously these days.