Jan. 26, 2011
By Bonnie Jendrek
He may not be manning first base or taking pitchers deep anymore, but former Vol Chris Kemp's life still revolves around baseball, even if it isn't exactly as he originally drew it up.
Entering his second season as an area scout for the 2010 American League champion Texas Rangers, Kemp is responsible for scouring South Carolina, North Carolina and East Tennessee for future MLB superstars.
Originally from Duluth, Ga., Kemp spent two seasons at Spartanburg Methodist before joining the Tennessee program in 2004. After leading the Vols with 45 RBIs that season, the 6-4 lefty sat out the 2005 campaign before returning to hit .314 with 11 home runs and 41 more RBIs in 2006, earning a free-agent deal with Rangers in the process.
Following two seasons playing professionally, Kemp returned to his junior college roots as an assistant coach at Spartanburg Methodist for the 2008 and 2009 campaigns. Last summer, he jumped at an opportunity to work for the team that signed him out of Tennessee and joined the Rangers in his current capacity.
As he evaluates high school and college players for the MLB draft, Kemp is responsible for writing reports on their ability and background, and ranking them accordingly. His sharp eye for talent was noticed immediately by the Rangers who drafted and signed two of Kemp's suggestions, taking Elon southpaw Jimmy Reyes and high school lefty Chris Hanna in the seventh and 11th rounds, respectively.
"It is pretty cool to evaluate a kid in high school or college and then have them selected in the MLB draft to help the organization," Kemp said.
Along with scouting high school and college prospects, Kemp spends summers watching out for minor league players with potential. Last summer, he covered games in the Appalachian League, which has teams with several young prospects from Latin America. Although he enjoyed scouting in the Appalachian league, he had to balance that with scouting amateur players at tournaments and showcases.
However, a life of traveling to watch potential MLB stars is not all glitz and glamour.
"I probably drove 30-35,000 miles last year, but I don't mind being on the road going to different towns or cities," Kemp said. "It gives me a better outlook on life by spending time in different towns meeting with families and players. There are some days mid-spring when I wake up and forget where I am, but it's all worth it if you can find that next big leaguer that can help us win a World Series in Texas. If you work hard enough as a scout, you can steal some players late in the draft that might be getting overlooked by other organizations."
Though he enjoys scouting, Kemp's ideal career in baseball is to coach a SEC team. For right now, though, he is more than content with his current job.
"I just want the Rangers to grow as a perennial contender. I still believe coaching is in my blood, but scouting for a major league baseball team is like living in a dream."
Although he has moved up to working in the major leagues, Kemp has yet to forget his D-1 college home. Playing baseball at Tennessee helped mold Kemp's keen eye for talent by teaching him what to look for in a player and what qualities one needs to make it in the professional leagues.
"Looking back on it now, some of the talent on those teams was overwhelming. The more baseball I watch, the more I realize how lucky I was to be teammates with those guys from 2004-06. The biggest thing that I learned by being around great college players is that the separation comes off the field, not on. The guys with work ethic, heart and toughness are the ones that make it.
"When you have to prepare to play teams like Auburn, South Carolina, LSU, Georgia, Florida, etc., there is no let up and not much room for error. Our practices and our workouts with our strength coach were intense and very competitive. If you were not performing, you would lose your spot. That type of mentality builds toughness and helps players maximize their talent. The coaches treated us like professionals and we were held accountable."
As a scout, however, Kemp often has to help young players make tough decisions about beginning their professional career or playing college ball.
"Just like any decision in life, there are pros and cons for both sides," he said. "Every player's situation is different. Some kids feel that going to college and playing in the SEC while getting their degree is the best route, while other players believe that getting into a minor league farm system at an early age will help their chances of playing in the big leagues. Ultimately, it's always a win-win dilemma for the player. Whether he chooses the SEC or the MLB draft, he can't go wrong either way."
With the start of his second season as a scout getting closer every second, Kemp took a minute to thank a former teammate and share a special message with the current Vol squad.
"I want give my friend Luke Hochevar a big thank you from all of the former UT baseball players for his generous donation to build a brand new weight room in Lindsay Nelson Stadium. [It is] only fitting that the hardest working player I ever saw would donate the money for a state-of-the-art work-out facility. I hope all the current Vols understand the type of people that came before them. Go Vols!"