TERRE HAUTE — Wherever his baseball career takes him — and like probably every player in the Prospect League, he has thoughts of playing beyond college — Kyle Kempf will probably use the same approach that won him a job with the Terre Haute Rex approximately 14 months ago.
Which is a good thing.
Fresh from his second Prospect League All-Star Game appearance in as many seasons — a game July 17 in which he produced the only run in the West Division’s 2-1 loss by hitting a triple and scoring on teammate Tyler Wampler’s grounder — Kempf entered the home stretch of the 2013 season ranked sixth in the league in hitting with a .323 average and also had a homer, 16 RBIs, 22 runs, 12 doubles, three triples and 15 stolen bases in 39 games.
That followed up his rookie season in 2012 during which he finished fourth in the league in batting at .365 and added two homers, 44 RBIs, 38 runs, 12 doubles, two triples and 24 stolen bases in 57 games.
It’s probably not an exaggeration to say he’s in the argument as the best player in the league during that two-year stretch. Considering he started the 2012 campaign with a temporary contract, there’s no denying he’s been the league’s most pleasant surprise.
“I was kind of nervous to start off,” Kempf said recently when asked about his Rex beginnings. “I hadn’t played in a year [coming after a redshirt freshman season at the University of Southern Indiana], and a lot of the guys were bigger than me.
“But it’s all just baseball. At the end of the day, whatever happens happens,” the 5-foot-10, 180-pounder continued. “The first two games my timing was really bad, but [former manager] Brian Dorsett worked with me on some things and gave me a lot of confidence. I started getting hits, I was having a lot of fun, and it just started to click.”
Dorsett and his staff noticed.
“He kind of surprised everybody,” current Rex manager Ronnie Prettyman, an assistant last summer, recalled.
“He’s a real great kid, and he plays very hard. He doesn’t say much, but he lets his actions on the field speak for themselves … we needed somebody to fill a spot, and before long we couldn’t let him go — like [Rex infielder] Atlee [Schwab] did this year,” he added
“About two weeks in [to last season], they told me they were going to keep me,” Kempf remembers. “That took a lot of weight off my shoulders.”
“He’s a staple in our lineup,” Prettyman emphasized. “Our team revolves around him; he makes things happen from an offensive standpoint.
“He’s faster than people think,” the manager added. “He makes infielders have to rush, and the leads to mistakes and puts pressure on the defenses”.
In the team’s brief history, most of the Rex’s offensive records are probably held by Kempf or another two-year standout, Terre Haute South and Indiana State graduate Koby Kraemer.
But since Kempf will be just a sophomore at USI this fall, he still has more Prospect League eligibility to come. Another Kempf season with the Rex would be fine with Prettyman — “We would love to have him [again], but that may depend on what other opportunities he has,” the manager said — and also with some of Kempf’s ardent fans.
Those would include Mike and Kim Egger and their sons Ross and Will; they’ve been Kempf’s host family for both of his seasons in Terre Haute.
“[Having a host family] is an awesome experience,” Kempf said. “They made me right at home. The kids are awesome, the food’s awesome, Mike jokes around with us … it’s a home away from home, and a family away from your family.”
Whether he returns or not, however, the Rex experience has been nothing but good for him, Kempf indicated.
“It’s given me confidence, knowing the hard work over the years has paid off,” he said.
And as far as moving on to the next baseball level?
“I’d like to get an opportunity like I did here last year,” Kempf said, “and see what I can do.”
“I hope he gets a chance [to play] past college,” Prettyman said. “He deserves it. He’s a hard worker. [If he doesn’t get a chance] it will be because of lack of opportunity, not because of any lack of effort on his part.”