Kacy Clemens was on base at least once in his first eight professional games in 2017, including a seven-game hitting streak.
2017 Vancouver Canadians first baseman Kacy Clemens is the latest guest to play pepper in this edition of C’s Chat. The son of Roger Clemens earned his first mid-season promotion as a pro when he was called up to join the Dunedin Blue Jays from the Lansing Lugnuts May 7. The 23 year-old Houston native slashed and impressive .301/.454/.624 with the Lugnuts and was leading the Midwest League with seven home runs at the time of his call-up. He nearly averaged a run batted in and a walk a game in 27 games with 25 RBI and 25 free passes.
Despite the impressive numbers, Clemens admitted he was not expecting to get the call to Dunedin yet.
“It was just post-game after one of our games. My manager just said, ‘Come over to the office.’ I went in there. I wasn’t really sure what it was about. He just said, ‘You know what. Your leadership and your performance on the field has been amazing. I just want to congratulate you on using it. You’ve just been called up to Dunedin. You deserve it and keep doing what you’re doing here and you’ll be fine.’ That’s pretty much how it went down.
I did not think that it was going to come that early. I knew I was doing well. I just kind of had my nose down trying to keep doing what I was doing and see if I can get the attention of everybody to see if I can get called up by maybe the All-Star break or whatever. I was definitely caught off-guard.”
Clemens attributed his success to staying within himself and the play of his teammates.
“Just not trying to do too much. The team we had in Lansing was awesome with a lot of the guys we had in Vancouver. The team chemistry and camaraderie was just something that we kind of fed off each other. We were scoring a lot of runs. I think we were leading the Midwest League in walks. I think hitting is contagious and we were doing really well. I just happened to kind of be in the middle of it. Those guys are awesome. They keep playing at a high level. We will see a few of them in Dunedin as well.”
Though Clemens has not been in Dunedin long, he says he hasn’t seen a huge difference between the Midwest League and the Florida State League.
“I’m back liking the heat again. I don’t know how long I’ll be saying that but the competition level, it hasn’t been much of a difference.”
Kacy Clemens batted .274/.379/.413 with the Vancouver Canadians in 2017.
Clemens on playing in Vancouver
After being drafted in the eighth round of the 2017 draft by the Toronto Blue Jays out of the University of Texas, Clemens reported to Vancouver and made his professional debut with a walk in four at-bats June 22 against Everett at Nat Bailey Stadium. He saved his first pro hit for a good time the next night when his two-run single snapped a 5-5 tie and lifted the C’s to an eventual 8-5 win over Spokane.
Clemens said it didn’t take long for him to get used to life in pro ball.
“I thought I felt comfortable towards the beginning of the year. It was just an adjustment playing every day, using the wood bat, all of those things kind of take a little bit of time getting used to. Where you can get your routine where you are ready to play every single day as opposed to just playing on the weekends. I don’t really remember a day where I felt like I settled in but I felt like I stepped in and hopefully started making an impact as early as I could.”
Clemens continued to show a knack for timely hitting as he drove in the winning runs in a 15-13 victory in Everett June 27, the same night he collected his first professional home run. The former Texas Longhorn had another good reason to remember that game at Everett Memorial Stadium.
“I just remember I hit my first pro home run in Everett and that was the same stadium where Ken Griffey Jr. hit his so I definitely remember that. It was a very uncharacteristic field as far as the wall is set up and the dimensions. I just remember the ball flew well there and a little bit of a shorter porch. I have good memories of my first pro home run there.”
Clemens would homer in back-to-back games against Everett in that series. He also played a huge role in another come-from-behind victory against the Eugene Emeralds July 2 with a key two-run single.
“That team we had had such good camaraderie and we were fired up every day to play. We did take those games with teams that had the better records and we went at them like it was a very important series. Anytime you can have a big hit and put the team ahead late in the game, I tend to get fired up in those moments and that’s kind of the moments we play for.”
Those victories played a huge role in helping Vancouver clinch the first-half North Division title, something that Clemens relished.
“It was awesome. Once we clinched, it was fun for me because that was kind of our first little ball celebration with the popping the bottles in the clubhouse and what not. All of my teammates getting their fair share of advice and to the coaching staff telling them thank you to getting us to where we were.
I kind of felt weird after that knowing we had already made the playoffs going into the rest of the season with not meaningless games but games that you know, we were kind of ready for the playoffs already but yeah, that was super exciting. It gave us the ability to catch our breath and really get our arms (ready) for the playoffs.”
Clemens said the team’s business-like attitude helped them keep up their strong play in the season’s second half.
“We played every game with the same attitude. Anytime you take the field, you’re not going out there just to mess around. You’re going out there to win the game. We had a bunch of those kind of attitudes on that team. That’s why we were so successful in both halves of the season and obviously with winning the championship.”
Kacy Clemens shares a fist bump with Logan Warmoth (#29) moments after Warmoth’s two-run single in the clinching Game 4 of the Northwest League final.
The C’s got an extra home playoff game thanks to a nearby forest fire that forced Game 1 of the North Division final at Avista Stadium in Spokane to be moved to Vancouver. Clemens said it was a strange situation.
“That was crazy. It was tough to see and tough to kind of breathe really but it got kind of really bad at one point. You couldn’t almost just see past the center field wall with all the smoke. It was kind of just a waiting game of when they were going to call the game. We ended up going back to Vancouver and that was obviously fortunate for us.”
Clemens said it was unusual being the “visiting team” for Game 1 at The Nat.
“It was different. Baseball is a lot about adapting and making adjustments and that was definitely one of them. I just remember getting the guys together and saying, ‘We’re going to have the crowd on our side so let’s just play it like a home game.’ “
Clemens also shared his recollections of the championship final against the Eugene Emeralds.
“I just remember high-energy. Obviously we were that deep in the year. Everybody was grinding at that point but you know what, I figured to get there, you better win the championship. We definitely tried to string it together and we won Game 1, we left Eugene 1-1. We knew we needed to just win one there because we weren’t going to lose at home. Going back to Nat Bailey with one win under our belt was really good and we were bringing it home from there in front of our home crowd of Vancouver.”
Clemens also shared his point of view on the final out of the championship from first base.
“When you’re on defence, your anticipation is just super-high. You want to get that last out so bad. Once (William Ouellette) got the strikeout, I ran straight to the mound to hug Will and hug whoever was coming from third base. I just remember the dugout, our dugout coming flying out of our third base dugout with water and everything. Just jumping up and down with our teammates being super-happy about winning the championship.”
Clemens also reflected on receiving his championship ring.
“It was unbelievable. The ring is huge. It’s awesome. The (team) did a great job on that. I can’t believe I won a championship in my first year especially in front of (all those) fans in Vancouver. That ring will commemorate our whole year so I pumped to have that.”
Kacy Clemens led Vancouver with 95 total bases in 2017.
Clemens on his rookie season and off-season
Clemens said his first professional season was a learning experience.
“I think the biggest thing is not getting too high or too low. You got a game every single day so regardless what happened the day before, you got to get your mind right for the next day. I learned that my body can handle playing everyday and I learned what routines I need to do before the game and after the game to get my body in the best position to be as close to a hundred percent as possible.
I also learned that you’re going to play the same teams a lot of times. I sometimes jot down some notes about what teams are doing to you and how teams are trying to pitch you and how they’re playing you. Just so you know you can remember each pitcher and kind of remember your at-bats so you’ll have a bit more of an advantage the next time you go up.”
Clemens admitted he was not sure at first about preparing for his first off-season as a pro.
“I didn’t really know exactly what to do, exactly when to start hitting, exactly when to start throwing and all that. This was my first spring training, or getting ready for my first spring training. I talked to my dad and a couple of guys and my brother (Koby Clemens) who played 10 years (in the minors) and figured out a routine, a place to work out and get my body ready. I think I did pretty well and I probably won’t change anything next year.”
Kacy Clemens led the C’s in home runs (4 – with David Jacob), runs batted in (45) and walks (38) in 2017.
Clemons on developing as a hitter
Clemens has a shown a good eye at the plate by drawing a walk in just over 14 percent of this plate appearances with Vancouver in 2017. He bumped that rate up to 21 percent during his time in Lansing.
Plate discipline seems to run in the family as his older brother Koby recorded a .358 on-base percentage in his eight-year minor league career and his younger brother Kody currently has an OBP well above .400 in his junior season with the Texas Longhorns.
“I think just trusting yourself and knowing what pitches that you hit well and knowing what pitches you don’t hit well. With two strikes you got to expand the zone a little bit but up until then, I’m looking for a certain pitch that I can handle.
I think just being patient and not trying to do too much, not trying to get hits or get results and more letting the game come to you and just letting the results come as they do. That’s kind of how I approach hitting and I guess being patient in the box. I didn’t do any drills or anything like that as far as plate discipline. I think it’s just something that I’ve gotten better and better at as I’ve played the game.”
Clemens thrived with hitting in runners in scoring position and in late-and-close situations in Vancouver with .313 and .321 batting averages respectively. Those trends continued in Lansing with marks of .280 and .500. He says he likes it when there are ducks on the pond.
“I like hitting with runners on base because there’s certain situations in the game where I can think about productive outs and think about stuff that I can do to help the team other than get a hit. For example, if there’s runners on first and second and nobody out, I know I got to get those guys into scoring position and I can get out doing that.
With nobody on, I’m not too much of a leadoff hitter. I’d rather hit with guys out there. I feel a bit more comfortable when guys are on base.”
Kacy Clemens made 52 starts at first base for the C’s in 2017.
Clemens on playing first base
Clemens earned rave reviews for his glove-work at first base. He did not make an error in 446 chances with the C’s and only committed one miscue in Lansing before his promotion to Dunedin.
Clemens credits an injury to his shoulder during his high school days at Memorial High School in Houston as the reason for his defensive prowess.
“I think the biggest thing is coming out of high school, I had shoulder surgery and I was actually a pitcher. I got drafted (in the 35th round in 2013) as a pitcher by the (Houston) Astros out of high school. When I went to Texas, I was going there as a two-way player – a pitcher and a hitter. My first freshman fall, I couldn’t swing and I couldn’t throw because of my shoulder surgery so the only thing I could do was take ground balls.
For about three months straight, I took about a hundred ground balls a day over at first base because I knew that’s where they wanted to play me. I developed a really good routine and I just kept working on my hands and my footwork and that’s kind of when I started to become a really good first baseman.”
Clemens said there were a couple of first basemen in the majors he liked to watch.
“I always liked watching Mark Teixeira. I remember watching Carlos Delgado as a kid as far as swinging the bat. I think Mark Teixeira was a pretty good first baseman and I liked watching him play defence.”
Clemens as part of a legacy infield?
Clemens was part of a legacy infield with Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and 2016 Vancouver Canadian Cavan Biggio during a spring training game against the Canadian Junior National Team March 16. He hopes it will happen again in the big leagues someday.
“That would be crazy. I don’t think any of us thought the front office thought of that when they drafted all of us. One game in spring training we all played in a big league game and we all started in the infield. We kind of looked at each other and said, ‘You know what. This would be pretty cool if this did happen.’
I don’t know. That’s in the future and a couple of the guys are a little bit closer than I am. Right now, I got my mind focused on what I got to do here in Dunedin.”
A few hours after our chat, Clemens socked his first home run as a Dunedin Blue Jay May 11 with his parents in attendance as part of a 4-3 victory over the Fort Myers Miracle.
My thanks to Kacy Clemens for being the latest guest on C’s Chat. You can follow him on Twitter @KClemens21 . A thank you goes out to Dunedin Blue Jays Media Relations Coordinator Daniel Venn for arranging the interview. He can be found on Twitter @GalapagosDan.