TCN 2016 Cardinals Prospect #12: Carson Kelly

The Gold Glove catcher may have turned the corner offensively during a strong second half.

The Cardinal Nation/ Player Profile

School: Westview High School, Portland, Oregon

2015 rank Pos. DOB Ht. Wt. Bat Thw Signed Round
11 C 07,14,94 6-2 210 R R 2012 2nd

Selected 2015 stats

PB 0.219 0.239 389 30 85 18 8 51 22 64 0 0.283 0.263 0.332 0.594

Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

Message board community (15): Carson Kelly was rated slightly lower during the community balloting than from the other voters, ultimately landing at #15. He has been chosen in the #9-15 area of the prospect vote for four years now, starting with a #10 ranking back in his draft year during the 2012-2013 off-season.

Blingboy expressed his doubts during the vote, asking if we are still pretending Carson Kelly will hit enough to amount to anything. I responded noting that in his final month of the season Kelly had a slash-line of .319/.347/.493/.840, which is really good. Desmetlax12 echoed blingboy’s comments saying that he has Kelly in the #40-50 range of his personal rankings. Mudville posted that he was getting tired of hearing about Kelly’s potential and never seeing it backed up with numbers but then Kelly won the award for being the best defensive catcher in the minor leagues so he is back on the fence again. Pugsleyaddams posted his congratulations to Kelly for getting said award, especially for someone who is just learning the position. - Jeremy Byrd

Derek Shore (10): If there's an heir apparent to Yadier Molina in the Cardinals organization, Kelly would be the first internal choice with only the upper levels left to master in his ascent. Furthermore, in just his second full season as a catcher, Kelly won the highest honor for a minor league defensive catcher, winning the Minor League Baseball Rawlings Gold Glove Award, announced following the conclusion of 2015 season.

While guiding the very successful High-A Palm Beach pitching staff this season, the backstop posted a .996 fielding percentage in 104 games behind the plate. He threw out 36 percent of base stealers (31 of 86) and allowed just six passed balls in a heavy workload of 920 1/3 innings caught. Kelly committed three errors, with all three coming via errant throws - speaking volumes of the significant progress in his game-calling, receiving, and blocking ability.

"Best defensive catcher in our system. Could catch in the big leagues currently,” said a Cardinal official who briefly spoke about Kelly.

Offensively, Kelly's seasonal line of .219/.263/.332/.594 by no means stood out. Though at a phase of the season when players fatigue and their performance dips, Kelly's bat came around towards the back-end of the year and he sprinted across the finish line at season's end. The right-handed hitter improved from a .177 average in the first half to .263 in the second half of the season.

My expectation is that because catching is a defensive-first position and the Cardinals emphasize defense over offense, the offensive bar would be extremely low for Kelly to produce at the plate despite the industry consensus on his bat potential - ability to square balls up and hit premium velocity consistently.

However, there are still optimists who believe in his late-season improvements at the plate and raw power that initially swung him a lucrative bonus following the draft, so that his glove won't have to do all the lifting. His upside is said to be a .240-250 hitter with 10-15 home runs and stellar defense as a regular.

I imagine Kelly will move up to Double-A Springfield next year with an uptick in offense while playing every day in hitter-friendly Texas League.

Brian Walton (9): Though Derek and I both see Kelly as a top 10 prospect in the system, my confidence was greatly buoyed by the catcher’s second-half improvement at the plate. In my monthly prospect rankings, others had begun to slide past Kelly before his strong finish.

Considering all the changes Kelly has mastered in his career to date, it is easy to forget that he played half the 2015 season at age 20. Not many 20 or 21-year-olds have yet reached their playing peak and there is no reason to suspect that Kelly will be an exception.

His manager at Class A-Advanced Palm Beach, Oliver Marmol, looks back on Kelly’s contributions to his 2015 Florida State League playoff team.

“Carson did a very nice job this year,” Marmol said. “A lot of his focus and his energy went into the defensive side of his game. To his credit, he had a phenomenal year defensively. Made very good progress. A lot of his mindset and his goals went to make sure he would become a good catcher and the hitting would come. And that is exactly what he did.”

Cardinals director of player development Gary LaRocque is expectedly proud of Kelly’s Gold Glove Award.

“It is a real, real compliment to his hard work,” LaRocque said. “His work ethic has been tremendous. From the day he walked out in instructional league and put the gear on, he has done a very good job at it. Two years removed and he is the minor league catcher of the year across the entire country and all the affiliates. So we are really pleased for him. He has worked really hard here in the Florida State League to get it. I would say it is well deserved.”

I asked Cardinals minor league hitting coordinator Derrick May what was behind Kelly’s change at the plate in the second half.

“At the beginning he was trying find his comfort zone,” May said. “And that is basically what we talked about – just finding his comfort zone and being in a comfortable hitting position. Once he found that, he worked on that and worked on his rhythm at the plate and timing and staying on the ball. Everything kind of came together for him in a great second half. He put a lot of things together.”

Marmol added his perspective.

“In the second half, he was able to calm down a little bit offensively and made a couple of small adjustments,” the manager said. “Started to use the whole field. Started to hit some balls out of the ballpark and gap to gap. You could tell that things were starting to click as the defense and offense came together and we saw a very nice player. We are excited for Carson.”

As evidenced by the above and more, there seems confidence among key individuals in the Cardinals organization that if Kelly can continue to progress, he has what it takes to play in the majors one day. The two years ahead of Brayan Pena’s contract as Yadier Molina’s backup should be just about the right amount of time for Kelly to fully make his case.

Our 2016 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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