MadFriars' Interview: Casey Kelly

Right-handed pitcher Casey Kelly along with his friend and teammate Anthony Rizzo were the two top Red Sox prospects the Padres had to get to trade Adrian Gonzalez. While everyone knows what Rizzo has been doing, Kelly has been nearly as impressive in San Antonio.

SAN ANTONIO: Casey Kelly was taken in the first round by the Boston Red Sox in the 2008 draft as both a shortstop/pitcher. The Red Sox were able to convince him to forgo a combined football/baseball scholarship to the University of Tennessee by going over slot and agreeing to the unique agreement to let him pitch the first half of the season and play shortstop the second.

Last year he had his first full season as a pitcher in AA Portland in the Eastern League going 3-5 with a 5.31 ERA pitching most of the year with a split nail and strained oblique.

Despite the less than stellar statistics, scouts are still over the moon on the right-hander's ability. They chocked up the off-year to his inexperience as a full-time pitcher and injuries. He still threw three quality pitches with velocity and movement on a fastball that sits in the low 90's. His best pitch is sinking two-seamer which seems to go everywhere but straight and usually ends up in the strike zone.

Kelly, 21, along with 1b Anthony Rizzo, CF Reymond Fuentes and OF/2b Eric Paterson were all traded over the winter for Padres' all-star 1b Adrian Gonzalez. While Rizzo has garnered most of the attention, Kelly has quietly put up solid numbers with the Missions, a 3-1 record and a 3.38 ERA in his first eight starts.

He is bigger than his listed 6'3", 195 lbs. probably closer to 6'4",210 lbs. What is most striking about watching him pitch is how easily he seems to unleash low to mid 90's fastballs along with a consistent ability to throw strikes.

This seems like a really fun team to be a part off. Has there been much of an adjustment period since coming over to a new organization?

Casey Kelly: Being a guy that hasn't been in the organization its really been great coming over here. They really make you feel welcome and we hang out on and off the field. We've become pretty close.

Since you are new to the organization, can you go over what you throw?

Casey Kelly: I have a four and two-seam fastball. A change-up and a curve.

It seems like everything with you is around the plate and appears to be a hittable pitch.

Casey Kelly: Yeah, that is usually the life of a sinker ball pitcher, you want a lot of ground balls. If you are around the plate the hitters are going to be swinging more and give you what you want. I just try to get contact early in the count and let the defense do their work.

What I found really impressive from watching you the other night is that a hitter can't be patient either. I mean if you are sitting on a certain type of pitch its going to be strike one and then strike two after two pitches. The ball is always moving in the strike zone.

Casey Kelly: Yeah the Padres are really big on first pitch strikes and getting ahead in the count. Its amazing what you can do when are pitching ahead as compared to from behind.

Last year was your first year as a full time pitcher. Before you had played half the year at shortstop and the other as a pitcher. Before that in high school you were a very good quarterback [Kelly turned down a scholarship to the University of Tennessee as a quarterback] in addition to baseball. Was it kind of hard to get used to all the free time?

Casey Kelly: [laughs] It was definitely different. Before I had looked at it like I have four days off and then I go pitch on the fifth. When I went to big league camp with the Red Sox it opened my eyes seeing how hard those guys worked on the days they didn't pitch. You know, you run, hit the weight room and do a bunch of other things. You get your work in, you just aren't playing in the game.

As we were talking about earlier, you were a shortstop for your first two years in pro ball in addition to pitching. That is a fun position and seems like it would be really tough to give up. Do you see yourself as a shortstop who pitches? I mean I know guys in their forties who see themselves as shortstops who do accounting.

Casey Kelly: [laughs] People ask me that all the time. I do miss playing everyday and being out in the field but the day I get to pitch is the fun day. There are four work days and you get to have fun on the fifth; but yeah I do look at myself as a shortstop who pitches.

You had a really unique signing agreement with the Red Sox when you were drafted that allowed you to split time between shortstop and pitcher before you decided what you wanted to do. I've never heard of anything like that before, how did that come about?

Casey Kelly: I played my first two months at shortstop after I was drafted. At the end of the year we kind of came together and agreed that I would pitch the first half of the year, get to around 95 to 100 innings and then go play shortstop. It was a fun experience and not a lot of people get to do that.

I'm glad things worked out the way they did because I wouldn't be here if I was playing shortstop.

I'm pretty impressed that out of high school you and your family were able to kind of dictate the route that you, not the team, wanted to go.

Casey Kelly: My dad and I talked a lot about this - and it was the same way with football - it was what ever would make me happy. My dad being around the game for so long really helped me understand what I was getting into. Actually I think my dad wanted to see me go play college football but he was more concerned that I do what was best for me.

As for being a shortstop or pitcher the biggest goal was always to get to the big leagues as fast as possible and I think pitching for me was the best way to do that.

It always seems like such a huge advantage to have grown up with someone close to you in professional baseball because you realize how tough it is to get to the big leagues regardless of where you are drafted.

Casey Kelly: Just traveling with my dad after school got out with my family in the summers really helped me out a lot. I was always around the clubhouse and you see a lot of guys come through. You see people getting moved up, getting released and as you get older you start to really pay attention to what the guys that are getting moved up are doing.

It gave you a perspective even as a first rounder that I'm not on some guaranteed rocket ship to the big leagues that will be there in three years.

Casey Kelly: Exactly. There are a lot of guys that are high draft picks that don't make it. Its hard to say why, maybe they don't work hard or are satisfied where they are. To me getting drafted in the first round was a great honor but I also knew how much more work I had to do to get where I wanted to be.

We talked to Jason McLeod [the Padres Scouting Director who drafted Casey when he was with the Red Sox] in the off-season and he said that last year you had a badly split nail which affected your ability to throw a breaking ball and you had a minor oblique strain.

I always respect that your guys response is if "I'm on the field, I can play - no excuses."

Casey Kelly: Exactly.

But the game is hard enough to play when you are a 100% healthy let alone 80%. How much better does it feel to be completely healthy now?

Casey Kelly: [laughs] The game is hard enough but once you are on the field you really don't think about it either. But yeah, it does feel nice this year to be healthy.

How does a split nail affect your ability to throw a breaking pitch?

Casey Kelly: If I wasn't into baseball and I heard that someone wasn't able to throw a certain pitch because of a broken nail, I could see myself saying, ‘Really? Seriously a nail?"

But when you pitch your hands are the biggest thing along with your arm. If it doesn't feel right then it gets cut, starts to bleed and you are going to struggle. Now I put on an acrylic nail every other start to prevent it from getting cracked again.

True because the difference for you missing by a few inches...

Casey Kelly: It's huge. The difference between a ground ball and home run.

What is your biggest goal going into the season?

Casey Kelly: Having fun. I think last year some of the hype and being a big time prospect with the Red Sox kind of got to me a little. I started to care too much about what this guy said about me, or who wrote what and it took some things away from my performance.

I let to many outside things get into my head. But last year made me the pitcher that I am now. Some would think of it being a down year for me but I look at it as really helping me get the innings that I need to go forward.

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