He was one of the state of Georgia's top prospects at shortstop from Troup County High School in La Grange, Ga., but was believed to have good enough hands on defense with ample power at the plate to successfully survive the move from short to third upon entering the Cubs' farm system.
For the first few years of his professional career, things seemed to be going according to plan, although Kelton had never put up eye-popping numbers with the bat and often struggled on defense. He hit .275 in his first four seasons with the organization before a wrist injury cut short his 2001 season at Double-A West Tenn after only 58 games. (Kelton had previously undergone shoulder surgery following the '98 season.)
When he returned to Jackson the following year, Kelton spent all of his time at first base. He played 121 games there and batted .261.
In 2003 during Kelton's freshman year at Triple-A, he was back at third to start the year. The trip back to the hot corner didn't last long, however. After 34 games, Kelton was sent to the outfield, where he's subsequently been ever since.
The former highly touted prospect recently concluded his third year at Triple-A with little taste of major league experience in either of the three seasons.
"For the most part, it was a fun year," Kelton said of his past season at Iowa, which saw him bat .283 with 11 home runs and 67 RBI in 122 games. "I probably got off to the best start of my whole career. I dropped off a little bit at times, but it was fun. The main thing is still about learning your swing and your approach, and just trying to become an overall better hitter and player."
Kelton's season began as always in Mesa, Ariz., at Spring Training. This spring was different than any other Kelton had experienced, however, as this time around, he was to deal with the possibility of not returning to the Cubs after a seven-year run.
Out of options once Spring Training ended, Kelton was placed on waivers in early April. When he wasn't claimed, he returned to the Cubs for an eighth season with the organization.
Now he is staring at the possibility of free agency.
"I become a free agent, unless I was to get called up," Kelton said. "I don't know if I will or not, but if I don't, I become a free agent in October. Either way, I haven't had a winter off in a long time because I've been playing ball non-stop. I feel like I need to go home, get rejuvenated, get some strength back, and then just see what's out there."
Facing the possibility of life without professional baseball – even if it's only temporary – is something Kelton has had to deal with recently. He and his wife just purchased a house in Hoover, Ala., a suburb of Birmingham, where they plan to make their permanent home in the offseason.
"As everyone knows, I've had a couple of surgeries these past few years," Kelton said. "I've played winter ball and just haven't been able to dedicate myself toward lifting and getting my strength back. I feel like the best years I've ever had in the minors have come when I've gone home and given three or four months to hard lifting and getting my body strong.
"That's what I'm looking forward to this time. I'll probably take a month off and just rest, not doing anything and letting my body heal before hitting the weights."
Whatever decision is made on Kelton's future, it should come soon. Cubs Director of Player Development Oneri Fleita says the organization has until Oct. 15 to make a decision one way or the other on Kelton's services.