2011 Cardinals Prospect #27 – Joe Kelly

The hard-thrower had a solid 2010 but questions remain about his durability and future role.

Scout.com Player Profile (including links to full 2010 and career stats)

2010 rank Pos. DOB Ht. Wt. Bat Thw Signed Round
32 SP 3/8/1988 6-1 170 R R 2009 3rd

School: University of California - Riverside

Selected 2010 stats

QC 6 8 4.62 26 18 1 103 103 66 3 45 92 3.15 0.265

Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

Dustin Mattison (18): The former fire-balling reliever seemed to transition well to the starting rotation. Admittedly, he did tire down the stretch with 100-plus innings but the Cardinals have to be pleased with his overall results.

Though he possesses a fastball that sits in the mid-nineties and tops out at 99, it is his heavy sinker that will get him to the big leagues. The 22-year-old posted a groundball-to-fly ball ratio of 3.15-to-1 including a rate over five in June.

To continue up the ladder, Kelly will need to improve upon his 3.92 BB/9 rate. He finished the season with an FIP of 3.31 compared to an ERA of 4.62. Eliminate his poor August and his ERA would have been in the low three's.

With Kelly at 6-foot-1 and 170 pounds, I do worry if his body can hold up to the rigors of being a starting pitcher. Compound his body size with his injury history and the deck is definitely stacked against him for long term success as a starter. Even so, I really like the path down which the Cardinals are leading Kelly. Getting him more work by using him in the rotation can only help him in the long run.

If his body holds up, he could definitely be a middle of the rotation starter. If not, the Cardinals can move him to the bullpen where he would offer a proven power arm.

Message board community (33): Joe Kelly clocked in at 33rd on the community's list, an uptick from last year's 41st but this is still less than the aggregate. There was diverse opinion about Kelly, with one poster voting for him as early as 20th.

Kelly's stuff is reported to be excellent, with a mid-90's fastball and hard slider. He has a tremendous groundout/flyout ratio of 3.15, and only gave up three home runs in 103 1/3 innings this year at Quad Cities. He fanned 92 in 103 innings, which seems decent but not eye-popping for a guy with his reputed stuff at the Midwest League level. And he walked 45. In addition, the walk rate went up from 19 in 52 pre-all-star break innings to 26 in 51 1/3 innings after the break.

Will Kelly stick as a starter, or will he be converted to the pen? My sense is that the community is reluctant to rank relievers high when they're still at this level of ball. The power and ground ball combination could stand him well in the Cards' system. - Gagliano

Brian Walton (34): Kelly slipped three places on my personal list from last year. It is more a reflection of improvement of the competition across the Cardinals system than any new or expanded concerns about his future.

For some time, there will be reservations about Kelly as the Cardinals have an extensive history of taking risks on high-upside hurlers with shoulder problems. The full season of solid work on Kelly's arm is a positive, accentuated by a continuation of his groundball proficiency exhibited in his first season in 2009.

Quad Cities manager Johnny Rodriguez had several talented starters on his 2010 staff, including Kelly and top prospect Shelby Miller. Without hesitation, Rodriguez mentions the two in the same breath, while noting that like any Class A player, Kelly is an unfinished work.

"Of the two, Kelly's got the best power arm, 95 to 98 (MPH) consistently," Rodriguez said. "He has a chance to be a number two or number three (as an MLB starter), depending on his off-speed and how it develops. Kelly has to work on his off-speed. He has the velo. Off-speed has got to be better. He's got to use it more to complement his fastball."

One would expect that next opportunity to progress and impress will come in Palm Beach in 2010.

Our 2011 top 40 countdown continues: To see our entire list of 40 Cardinals prospects, click here. You can also read each of the voters' philosophies in making their selections.

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