2010 Cardinals Prospect #32 – Joe Kelly

The Cards' hard-throwing third-rounder has both big upside and health risk. Today's article is FREE!

Scout.com Player Profile (including links to full 2009 and career stats)

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

School: University of California - Riverside

Selected 2009 stats

BAT 2 3 4.75 16 2 1 30.1 33 23 0 11 30 2.47 0.273

Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

Dustin Mattison (31): One of the most intriguing picks the Cardinals made in last June's draft, Kelly ranked as one of the hardest throwers in the country coming into his junior season at the University of California-Riverside.

After dominating as a freshman in 2007, he was named a member of the USA College National Team. Kelly would team with future Cardinal farmhands Lance Lynn, Scott Gorgen, and former organization member Brett Wallace. Shoulder injuries plagued the flamethrower the rest of his college career, setting him up to still be on the board for the Cardinals in the third round.

The 21-year-old (who shares my birthday, but unfortunately for me, not my birth year) clocked in during the spring in the mid-nineties with the ability to dial it up to 97 MPH on the gun. His fastball has natural sink, something in which the organization places much emphasis. After a short adjustment period, the Cardinals moved the career college closer into the rotation to increase his upside.

Overall, he posted a strikeout-to-walk rate of nearly 3-to-1 while inducing a groundball 56% of the time. Also along the way, he averaged nearly a strikeout an inning.

With a full-effort delivery increasing wear-and-tear on his shoulder, the odds are stacked against him making it as a starter due to his injury history. If he does, the Cardinals have a starting pitching prospect with high upside, something this organization has lacked in recent years. If he does move back to the bullpen, he should be a quick riser and possibly become the first player from the 2009 draft class to reach the big leagues.

Message board community (41): Joe Kelly was the Cards' third round pick in 2009. Three things are particularly notable. One is that he can throw the ball very hard. Various reports have his fastball topping at 94, 96, 97, and 99 mph. It apparently has good sink with some tailing action toward righty hitters.

He is also said to throw a change as his second pitch, with a curve as the third. He's been a late innings reliever, but with three pitches, the Cards might well convert him to a starter. (Indeed, two of his last four appearances at Batavia were as a starter.)

A second point worth noting is that Kelly has learned to pitch relatively late in life, as he was recruited to college as an outfielder. Over three years at UC-Riverside, he threw just 73.1 innings. Control might be an issue, as he walked 27 batters in that time, though his last year he only walked 6 in 28.2 innings. At Batavia this year (at age 21) he fanned 30 (and walked 11) in 30.1 innings. This suggests that he's a pitcher who is still learning the trade. We will need to remember that as we compare him to guys who are more polished.

A third point is that Kelly has had some arm troubles. His sophomore season was particularly hampered by shoulder problems. With so few innings pitched, it's possible that he has a low mileage arm that will go for a long time. Reports I've seen suggest that he has a good motion, but it will be important to see how he holds up with more innings.

The bottom line is that the power arm gives him a big upside, while the lack of experience suggests there will be bumps. Indeed, John Sickels of minorleagueball.com had him going 44th in the draft as late as May 15, and one June report suggested he could go in the top 10 picks, though he fell to 98th with the Cards. This is a guy to watch, albeit with patience. - Gagliano

Brian Walton (31): With the selection of Anthony Ferrara yesterday as prospect number 33, a mini-trend is emerging. The Cardinals have taken risks on high-upside hurlers with shoulder problems in hopes the youngsters can leave their cares behind as they mature.

While I am extremely nervous about shoulder ailments, it only stands to reason that if you put enough irons in the fire, some will get hot. The fact that Kelly's arm has fewer pitching miles on it is notable, as is his groundball proficiency from his first-season results. A full-season of health while starting with Quad Cities in 2010 may open some eyes.

Link to video.

Our 2010 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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