In September 2013, during St. Louis Cardinals instructional league, farm director Gary LaRocque asked then-third base prospect Carson Kelly if he would move behind the plate full-time.
Some two years later, Kelly made substantial traction donning the tools of ignorance, recognized as the Rawlings Gold Glove Award winner for his position across all levels of Minor League Baseball in 2015.
The young man who was once called a "good project" by a Cardinals official has developed into a defensive standout with only the bat left to fully progress.
Addressing the media during the Winter Warm-Up in January, the well-spoken, humble 21-year old said he thought he did "ok," and was surprised by the Gold Glove honor.
Coming off a .219/.263/.332 line with eight home runs and 51 RBI at High-A Palm Beach last year and a fall camp which prioritized his hitting, Kelly received an extended look in his fourth big-league spring training. The former second-round draft selection produced in limited action, batting .417 (5-for-12) with a home run and three RBI in his six games for the big-league club at Roger Dean Stadium.
In a move that was a surprise to no one, Kelly was assigned to Double-A Springfield to start 2016. As the ninth-youngest player in all of the Texas League, Kelly will feel growing pains and deal with long stretches of subpar results on both sides of the ball as the game speeds up. However, even in the notoriously pitcher-friendly Florida State League in 2015, Kelly proved to make in-season adjustments and taking a whole field approach helped him sprint across the finish line with a .263 mark in the second half.
This season, Kelly is slashing .208/.208/.333 in his first six Double-A games. Last Sunday, the Oregon native belted his first home run of the season against the Corpus Christi Hooks (HOU). In 2016, Kelly will receive the added benefit of working with his manager Dann Bilardello, an ex-big-league catcher who had a great impact on Michael Ohlman's advancement as a catcher last year for Springfield.
In the exclusive interview below, Kelly reflects on 2015 from an offensive and defensive standpoint while characterizing his fourth big-league spring training. To conclude, he talks about the present and what is to come.
Derek Shore: Obviously winning the Rawlings Gold Glove is a good start, but how do you reflect on 2015 from a defensive standpoint?
Carson Kelly: "I learned a ton. I learned a ton last year and coming into this year; I'm just going to take everything I learned from last year and apply it here and continue to get better every single day."
DS: Offensively, you turned the corner in the second half last year. What changed in your at-bats and approach?
CK: "It was just an attitude thing. Going out there with a bunch of confidence and believing in what I do, in my preparation on the field. I think doing all of that really, really helped me out in the second half and hopefully it's going to carry onto year two."
DS: How would you characterize your fourth big-league spring training camp?
CK: "It was awesome; it was fun. Going out there and having the opportunity to meet with the big-league team -- you learn a ton, and it's very humbling. It's been very fun so far."
DS: You received an extended look this time around. What benefited you the most?
CK: "It's just going out and learning and performing and take what you learn and go out and apply it. That's' the name of the game and I am going to continue to keep doing that."
DS: You were expected to open at Double-A. With it being a hitters’ league, do you think this is the year your offense starts to translate for a full-season?
CK: "The ballparks are a little different than High-A, but other than that I've just got to continue to keep doing my plan. It's a process and believing in what I do -- going into to get my work in and applying it on the field."
DS: On the defensive side, how can you top winning an award being the best at your position?
CK: "Do it again. Do it again and get better every single day."
DS: You've been labeled as a possible future replacement for Yadi - what do those expectations mean to you?
CK: "Yadier Molina - I hope he catches another 25 years. He's a great guy and just to learn from him, and I'm going to just continue to keep playing and be Carson Kelly while going out to learn and having a blast doing it."
DS: In your short time with manager Dann Bilardello, a former big-league catcher, how have you gotten along with him so far?
CK: "Awesome. He's the first guy to help me out when I first converted to a catcher. He knows me from day one. I love talking to him about situations - what he would do in this situation - and all that kind of stuff. So, it's really good to have him.”
DS: It has only been one turn around the rotation, but could you give me an early impression some of your starters?
CK: "Everybody has a plan, and they know what they need to do. It helps me because they tell me, 'I like my catcher to do this' or a specific thing. That helps me, so next time I go out there, they don't have to tell me. I already know exactly what they want to do."
DS: Have you set any goals for the new season?
CK: "Just continue to get better every single day. It's a process; believe in it. Keep working hard and having fun."
Related article: Springfield Cardinals Notebook: 2016 Week 1
Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.
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