TCN 2012 Cardinals Prospect #18: Joe Kelly

The right-hander had a strong first half, but tailed off in his Double-A debut. What is ahead in 2012?

The Cardinal Nation/ Player Profile
(including links to full 2011 and career stats)

2011 rank Pos. DOB Ht. Wt. Bat Thw Signed Round
27 SP 3/8/1988 6-1 170 R R 2009 3rd

School: University of California - Riverside

Selected 2011 stats

PB 5 2 2.60 12 11 0 72.2 56 26 1 34 62 1.96 0.215
SPR 6 4 5.01 11 11 0 59.1 70 40 7 25 51 2.42 0.306
Total 11 6 3.68 23 22 0 132 126 66 8 59 113 2.15 0.258

Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

CariocaCardinal (23): Just when I was starting to come around on Joe Kelly as a legitimate future major league pitching candidate after a strong first half of the season in Palm Beach, Kelly went out and laid an egg after being advanced to Springfield.

Long-touted as a hard-throwing pitcher with significant sink on his pitches (resulting in high ground ball rates), Kelly has never quite lived up to his hype - particularly when it comes to missing bats. To that end, Kelly had his third straight season of declining rates and worsening K/BB ratio.

Kelly was actually pretty good the first half of the season, though his statistics were somewhat slanted by a low home run rate. Just as his first half was overly good due to a low HR rate, his second half at Springfield was probably not as bad as it appeared due to being overly affected by a high HR rate. Given his ground ball rate at Springfield remained high, hopefully it was just a matter of getting used to the HR-friendly Texas league and particularly Hammons Field in Springfield, where his HR rate was near 2.0 per nine innings.

Kelly is another player (like John Gast) who received an unexpected spring training invite last year and impressed during camp. I would guess that performance will have earned him another invitation this year. After that, I would expect to see Kelly back at Springfield trying to figure out how to keep the ball in the park before finishing the year at Memphis. Kelly has long been touted as a player who could possibly do better if pitching exclusively out of the pen but I doubt this is the year he makes that switch.

Message board community (16): Kelly vaulted from #33 to #16 in the community rankings this year, almost entirely on the strength of his fine Florida State League performance. The former UC-Riverside righty posted a 2.60 ERA over his 11 starts for Palm Beach, yielding just one homer in 72 innings. Though Kelly took it on the chin after his promotion to Springfield (the toughest organizational jump for hurlers), he at least proved himself durable enough to log 132 overall innings, and a solid average of six innings per start.

Ineffective (ERA's of 9.35 and 5.65 his last two seasons) college relievers are not usually converted to starting after being drafted... if they get drafted at all, of course. But the Cardinals saw the hard sinking fastball at 92-94 mph, and may have imagined a much more efficient Joe Kelly, a veritable groundball machine, munching up innings in the middle of an MLB rotation.

Though some might say Kelly was an overdraft at #98 overall, the plan has panned out so far. At the least, Joe looks like a useful bullpen arm down the line, and maybe a solid #4 type starter, if he can develop just one average offspeed pitch. His return to Double-A this year should tell us much. - BobReed

Brian Walton (20): I am not down on Kelly. I am just still struggling to figure out what the Cardinals will ultimately have in him. Will there be more than an upper 90's fastball and heavy sinker? Don't get me wrong – that is enough to potentially fuel a good relief career.

I am willing to be patient longer to see how he develops. After all, Kelly still has just two-plus seasons of experience as a starter. In addition to the possible explanations of getting to know a new league and the inherent challenge of stepping up to Double-A, his Springfield BABIP was an incredibly-unlucky .364. Further, he may have simply been tired after throwing a career-high 132 innings between his two stops.

To that end, I admit that I still worry at times about Kelly's past shoulder problems and his somewhat slight build (6-foot-1, 170 pounds). Yet if he remains healthy, he should make the majors down the line, perhaps competing with his old college teammate Adam Reifer (ranked here at #19 just yesterday) for a bullpen job. If he can both remain off the disabled list and improve his off-speed pitches, Kelly still would have MLB mid-rotation potential as one of the more relatively high upside arms in the system.

Our 2012 top 40 countdown continues: To see the list of top Cardinals prospects announced to date and remaining article schedule, click here. You can also read each of the voters' philosophies in making their selections.

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