Michael Kelly was drafted as a supplemental first round pick out of West Boca Raton High School by the Padres in 2011; the same draft that saw the team select C Austin Hedges and RHP Joe Ross, both of whom are now in AA San Antonio.
Unfortunately, Kelley’s career didn’t have the same initial trajectory as Hedges and Ross and could never stick even in Low-A for the first few years of his career.
“With Michael it was always mental,” said Randy Smith, the Padres’ Director of Minor League Development.
“He’s always had the stuff it was just a question of putting it together.”
This season with Eugene, with the exception of a few bad outings, the six-foot-four, 200 lbs., Florida native has looked like the first round pick that he was in 2011 with 57 strikeout in 61.1 innings. He has still had a few bad outings, but has had many more dominant ones in his 12 starts this season.
And at only 21, he is still younger than most of his teammates that attended four-year schools and has finally begun to look like he has turned the corner in his professional career.
We caught up with Michael in Eugene to find the reasons behind his success.
You were picked as a first round supplemental pick by the Padres in 20111. What made you decide to go pro instead of going to the University of Florida?
Michael Kelly I really liked the Padres as an organization and everything they brought to the table. I just thought it was important to my professional career started especially when they paid for college as well.
You had some arm issues when you got drafted. Wasn’t that the case?
Michael Kelly They said they found something in my shoulder. It wasn’t a big deal but it was something that needed to be taken care of my first off-season in Arizona. I had the procedure done and have been healthy ever since.
We have been writing about you for awhile.
We’ve seen you in Spring Training and you have looked good at times and struggled at other times but have always had really good stuff. This year, with the exception of a few bad outings, a lot of things are coming together for you.
Michael Kelly It’s just been about consistency for me. I have the stuff, it is just about repeating it on a daily basis. This year I have been able to repeat my mechanics; while in past years I haven’t.
It is much easier to write that you need to repeat your mechanics and you should be more consistent. You seem like a bright person, why have you been able to do it this year while in other years you have not?
Michael Kelly Really just trusting my stuff and having confidence in myself as a pitcher.
These are all great phrases, but its interesting to ask about the meaning behind the words. If you are out on the mound walking batters, people will say, “Michael has got throw the ball over the plate and trust his stuff.”
But if you do that and they start to smack it out of the yard, then you hear, “Michael has got to become more of a pitcher and work the edges, he can’t just throw it down the middle of the plate.”
How do you balance that?
Michael Kelly The way I have been going at it this year is I would rather the hitter beat me than I beat myself by waling guys. It is much tougher to score when they have to hit the ball than me just giving them free passes.
You have been starting this year. To you feel more comfortable as a starter as compared to relief?
Michael Kelly I do. It helps me to prepare more mentally and I just feel more comfortable starting the game off. As a reliever you have to get ready in a hurry and that was tougher for me in the past.
Now I’ve been at this for awhile and starting to learn how to pitch it is a little easier but I like being a starter.
You dropped some weight.
Michael Kelly A little bit. Any reason why?
Every one at this level always talks about putting on weight.
Michael Kelly I wasn’t trying to lose weight. I went down to the Dominican this past fall for Instructs and I had some trouble eating and dropped about 18 pounds and this off-season I had to work to get back to where I am.
I am at 205 to 210 which is good.
What do you throw?
Michael Kelly I have a four and two-seam fastball. A slider and a change-up.
What do you throw more of the four or the two-seam fastball?
Michael Kelly It really depends on the team. If its more of a free-swinging team I will go with the two to get the ground balls. If the team is more patient I will go with the four-seam and if I get ahead go with the two.
The two-seamer always seems tougher to control. Is that true with you?
Michael Kelly [laughs] Yes, I have had plenty of trouble with that in my career.
You sound like you are comfortable throwing both?
Michael Kelly True. I have become much more comfortable as a pitcher. I’m getting back to the confidence that I need.
It seemed like you have made bullpens really work to your advantage by working on what you need too instead of just airing it out.
Michael Kelly Yes, this is part of becoming a pitcher. I’m really just trying to get the right amount of work that I need to get where I want to be in the game.
What is the biggest thing you are going to work on in the off-season?
Michael Kelly Just really focusing on my mechanics when I throw. That is the most important thing for me.
How long is the beard going to stay?
Michael Kelly [laughs] I haven’t decided yet.
Are your parents ok with it?
Michael Kelly My mom says she does, but you never know.
I like it, that is what is important.