TCN 2015 Cardinals Prospect #11: Carson Kelly

Kelly used his first season as a catcher to learn the position while also making hitting adjustments.

The Cardinal Nation/ Player Profile

School: Westview High School, Portland, Oregon

2014 rank Pos. DOB Ht. Wt. Bat Thw Signed Round
9 C 07,14,94 6-2 210 R R 2012 2nd

Selected 2014 stats

Peo 0.248 0.274 363 41 90 17 6 49 37 54 1 0.321 0.326 0.366 0.692

Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

Message board community (13): The discussion around Carson Kelly’s vote was especially interesting due to one poster’s persistent belief that Jose Godoy should rank higher than the elite catcher. MagnoliaCardFan cited Godoy’s much stronger caught stealing percentage, better strike-zone judgment, and .800+ OPS at Johnson City. Others felt that Kelly playing two levels higher than Godoy at Class A Peoria, was more indicative of his true talent level, and that Godoy is not a good comparison, even at the same age.

Scadder21 gave Kelly the benefit of the doubt with the bat, since he was learning a new position this past year. Mudville stated that the coaches still like him and noted that Kelly is improving as he moves through the system. Blingboy mentioned that Kelly picked it up with the bat some in the second half, which is encouraging. Bccran voted for Kelly earliest, at #8, in the vote, believing Kelly to be the player with the highest ceiling remaining in the system. - Jeremy Byrd

Derek Shore: Last winter, there was optimism over the catching conversion Kelly began last fall during instructs. That helped get him placed in the top ten in last year’s rankings. Kelly falls down two spots for 2015 after a full-season of experience behind the plate.

Kelly threw out 33 percent of attempted base-stealers, while blocking the ball well, and even called games effectively. There is still a lot of room to improve in that area as it was just his first full-season as a backstop. He should only continue to learn on the fly.

At the plate, Kelly struggled for the second straight time at Peoria hitting .248/.326/.366 in 98 games played, but this time he has got an excuse for his offensive struggles due to the additional workload on defense.

He has always had huge raw power potential, and the position change gives him a longer leash than most prospects to translate his hitting over to production. His bat was exactly average for Midwest League hitters at the age of 19. His ability to hit the bat with authority with consistency is something that will have to be improved upon regardless if he becomes a plus defensive catcher or not. But people tend to forget that he is still only 20 years old and there is plenty of time to develop in-game power. Just ask Yadier Molina.

Cardinals officials have said Kelly is a “special player.” If the early progress of the catching stage of his career continues and the bat develops, don’t be surprised to see him become the eventual successor to Yadier Molina. The path will indeed take him a while to get there. For next season, Kelly should be calling games at Palm Beach all summer and if maybe his offensive numbers are there, he could get a shot at Springfield.

Brian Walton (11): Put very simply, Kelly is the organization’s primary hope to eventually develop a front-line Major League catcher, and he still has a very long way to go. Other serious candidates could not emerge later on, but as of right now, other than Cody Stanley, ranked 26th in this countdown, Kelly is the only player at his position in this top 40.

In recognition of his status within the system, Kelly had received a non-roster invitation to 2014 Major League spring training camp. It was a bit surprising since he had just began to learn the catching position in instructional league camp the prior fall.

In fact, as a result, Kelly is the answer to a very unusual trivia question. He is one of a very few catchers in history who can prove that his first official professional appearance behind the plate was as a Major Leaguer. In St. Louis’ March 7 split squad contest at Port St. Lucie versus the Mets, Kelly entered the game late at catcher in relief of starter Tony Cruz.

The spring experience provided yet another layer built upon layers and layers of learning experiences for the young catcher.

“It was unreal,” Kelly recalled this fall. “Just to be able to go out and work with Yadi (Molina) and Mike Matheny and all those guys, they were very supportive. Great teachers.”

To open the 2013 season, the Cardinals had tried to push Kelly, then still a third baseman, to Class-A ball. When he struggled at the plate, they had to back off, having him finish the summer at short-season A instead.

The Cardinals player development staff learned from that in 2014. Keeping him in a familiar environment, the Midwest League, for the entire season meant that Kelly could focus more of his attention on learning his new position.

While sharing the Peoria catching job with Steve Bean, Kelly’s workload seemed consistent and reasonable. He averaged right at 19 to 20 games played and about 70 at-bats per month.

Even so, Kelly had an uneven season offensively. Most of his power and RBI production came early, but his batting average was low. He received a selection to the Midwest League All-Star team, a nice recognition.

As the season progressed, the right-handed hitter seemed to adjust. Kelly brought his average back up to the .250’s and his on-base percentage improved accordingly, but his extra-base power and RBIs dropped off considerably. One constant was a low strikeout rate of just under 15 percent.

I asked him if there was any particular explanation for the variance.

“You know, that’s baseball,” Kelly replied. “Some months are better than others, but you’ve just got to go out and play every single day. And when you get that opportunity, you have to execute.”

The Oregon native knows he has to continue to get better as a hitter and is working his plan.

“There is a lot of room for improvement,” Kelly acknowledged, then demonstrated. “This is what I am really focusing on, getting myself into a comfortable, ready position and load. I think that will help me make some adjustments.”

I agree with Derek that the Florida State League seems a likely destination for Kelly in 2015. As the organization learned in 2014, a measured approach may prove best in the long run. Reaching Double-A in 2016 at the age of 21 would still be an accomplishment and a reasonable goal for Kelly.

Our 2015 top 40 series continues: To see the entire list of top Cardinals prospects and remaining article schedule, click here. This includes the top 40 countdown and nine in-depth, follow-up articles. Most of the latter are exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation.

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