Otto Kemp (22) played in 109 minor league baseball games with the Philadelphia Phillies organization in 2023. By the end of his second season, there were games where he had three hits and diving catches, and others where he had three strikeouts and didn’t get on base. 

During his college and high school career, there were seasons where he watched from the dugout, sitting beside a pair of crutches, and others where he led his team in the field and at the plate all the way to the national championship. 

Kemp’s path to playing professional baseball wasn’t linear. Knee surgeries, a blood clot, a torn labrum and the coronavirus pandemic stood between him and his dream. But the former PLNU star got through each hurdle by not thinking too far ahead and never letting the belief he had in himself fall away. 

Otto Kemp signs his deal with the Phillies.

“I’m a one-day-at-a-time guy,” Kemp said. “I’ve always been like that. You can only control what that day gives you, and that’s been my mindset for as long as I can remember.” 

Kemp remembers being in elementary school, sitting on a bench at Troy High School in Fullerton and watching his older brother, Sam, play baseball every spring. The more games Otto went to, the more interested in the game he became. 

“I knew I wanted to go to that same high school and do the same thing,” Kemp said. 

By the time he finished his first season of little league baseball, Kemp knew he had talent.

At first he never played with kids his age, always getting moved up to play with boys a year or two older. Eventually, his parents held him back in the second grade so he could socialize with kids his age, which he remembers disliking immensely. 

Playing with older kids was challenging, but the experience gave him a chance to observe how older kids thought and taught him a lot about patience. 

“I always gravitate toward more mature people,” Kemp said. “I think that was kind of the stem of it.” 

By the time Kemp was a junior in high school, he was already one of the best players on his team. During that season, he earned All-League honors, despite tearing a ligament in his knee late in the spring. At the time, he was being recruited by Division I baseball programs. 

Kemp and his family smile at the PLNU baseball field

The injury was a setback, but during the offseason he regularly went through physical therapy, kept his skills sharp and was excited to show schools the following season that he could bounce back and play well enough to earn scholarship offers. 

But then, during his first day back on the field for his senior season, he tore the same ligament, again, leaving him on the sideline for the entire spring. Kemp sat to the side for months and watched while his best friends played and enjoyed their senior seasons. At school, Kemp shuffled up and down the hallways on crutches and watched while his friends committed to collegiate baseball programs. 

Meanwhile, the Division I schools that had reached out to Kemp in the past returned less of his messages. 

“It was really, really hard,” Kemp said. “I had no offers to play anywhere, and I knew I was good enough.” 

By the time he was getting ready to graduate high school, Kemp hadn’t played an entire year of baseball since his sophomore season. In the end, there were only two schools left that took the time to talk to him, and one of them was PLNU. 

Otto Kemp takes a swing at the baseball.

Kemp drove 100 miles south to San Diego with his family to tour the university’s campus. He checked out the school’s athletic facilities and was amazed by Carroll B. Land Stadium and the ocean view from the batter’s box. From there, he made his way to the baseball coaches’ office. 

While still reliant on crutches, Kemp spoke with Sea Lion coaches about both life and baseball. Also, despite not having completed a full season in three years, the coaches expressed that they were still interested in him.

The coaches revealed that they had already seen Kemp play when he was a sophomore in high school. The Sea Lion coaches went to see his teammate Ryan Park, who went on to play at PLNU, and remembered Kemp making talented plays at third base

They never forgot about him. During Kemp’s visit, PLNU coaches told him that he would have a spot on the roster if he came to the school. 

“That’s what I wanted,” Kemp said. “I wanted someone to want me to play for them. That was what sold me.” 

Kemp committed to the school soon after, healed from his latest knee surgery and then got on campus to start classes in the fall. 

It was the first time he was away from home. Getting adapted to a new environment was stressful, but with two healthy knees, he worked through his anxiety by focusing on the sport he loved. 

“I really, really enjoyed putting a lot of my time and energy into baseball. I felt like I had gotten let out of the cage.” 

“I really, really enjoyed putting a lot of my time and energy into baseball,” Kemp said. “I felt like I had gotten let out of the cage.” 

Kemp’s commitment secured him a starting position as a freshman and propelled him to the top of the team in slugging percentage after just 13 games.

In the days after that 13th game, the Sea Lions had a team lift. Kemp and the rest of his teammates worked their lower bodies with squats and other exercises, but by the end of the workout, Kemp noticed that his shoulder was starting to swell. 

Kemp monitored it over the next few days and watched as the swelling got worse. After a week and an appointment with a specialist, it became clear that he had a blood clot. 

He immediately got surgery and was put on blood thinners to keep the clot from reoccurring, but the thinners he was required to take kept him out for the rest of the season and pushed him to take a medical redshirt year to preserve eligibility. 

This was the beginning of a few starts and stops for Kemp during his college career. 

He came back healthy and rested the following year and earned PacWest Freshman of the Week honors during the regular season, but during a game late in the year, Kemp took a diving slide into second base, dislocating his shoulder and tearing his labrum. Then, a few weeks later, the coronavirus pandemic shut down baseball seasons for every school across the country, including PLNU.

At this point, Kemp was academically a sophomore in college and hadn’t played a full season of baseball since he was a sophomore in high school. 

The constant sense of instability got to him at points, but when it did, he made sure to think about what type of player he is at his best and the trust that PLNU’s coaches put into him.  

“I always knew that I had potential. I just knew that I didn’t have the time to show it,” Kemp said about his mindset during the down times. “I hung my hat on that. I’m going to control what I can and the rest is going to be left up to God.” 

“I always knew that I had potential. I just knew that I didn’t have the time to show it. I hung my hat on that. I’m going to control what I can and the rest is going to be left up to God.” 

His faith paid off. 

Kemp was healthy for the final two seasons of his college career. During his final season, Kemp hit 17 home runs, posted 62 RBIs, reached base in all 61 games and led the Sea Lions to the national championship for the first time in school history. 

After his big season in 2022, and graduating with a B.S. in Finance, Kemp decided to enter his name into the MLB Draft for that July. He didn’t end up getting drafted, but a few days later, a scout with the Philadelphia Phillies reached out and offered Kemp a chance to play with the organization’s Rookie League team. 

Kemp didn’t know what he was getting into, but he jumped at the opportunity. Since then, he has started making his way through the Phillies’ pro ladder and made some impressive plays at third base. 

He has moved up and down the ladder in the last two years, but with how much he has already been through, Kemp has learned to enjoy each day and moment on the field when it comes. 

“If you set your mind toward something, go for it and go all out,” Kemp said. “Because you’re going to live life with a lot of regrets after it’s all said and done if you don’t do everything you can to do it. 

“Chase it and chase it with all of your heart, all of your life. You have to persevere through a lot for it. Just go with the flow and always try to see the good in things.”

PLNU’s the Viewpoint publishes relevant and vital stories that grapple with life's profound questions from a uniquely Christian perspective. In addition to the content offered online, the Viewpoint print magazine is published three times a year in spring, summer, and fall.