Kelly looking to make strong first impression

The Texas Rangers became Ryan Kelly's third organization of the offseason when the club acquired him for Guillermo Moscoso on January 8. Lone Star Dugout recently sat down with the 23-year-old relief prospect.

The last few weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind for pitcher Ryan Kelly.

Kelly began the offseason as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates system––the organization he'd played with since signing in May 2007. On December 23rd, he was traded to Oakland in exchange for utility man Corey Wimberly. Then, just over two weeks later, he was on the move once again. The Athletics traded Kelly to the Texas Rangers for righty Guillermo Moscoso, whom Texas had designated for assignment.

Thankfully for Kelly, all this movement has occurred over the offseason. Though Kelly has technically been a member of three organizations in the last month, he hasn't changed physical addresses––just Spring Training travel plans.

Kelly was initially selected by Pittsburgh in the 26th round of the 2006 MLB Draft. After playing one season at Walters State Community College, he signed just prior to the '07 draft as part of baseball's final draft-and-follow class. He received a reported $100,000 bonus.

The right-hander pitched the '07 and '08 campaigns at the short-season levels. A couple of injuries––which he explains in the following interview––limited him during both years.

Kelly has pitched the last to seasons out of the bullpen at Single-A West Virginia, posting a 4.30 and a 4.20 ERA, respectively. In 75 innings last season, he yielded 75 hits, walked 14, and struck out 75.

While the 6-foot-2, 180-pound hurler has been hittable over the last two seasons (158 hits in 144 innings), he fills up the strike zone (23 walks) and misses some bats (142 strikeouts).

But beyond the numbers, Kelly is an intriguing relief arm because of his stuff. The 23-year-old delivers a low-to-mid 90s fastball––bumping up to 96 mph––and a promising curveball from a low arm slot.

Kelly, a South Carolina native, should be ticketed for the High-A Myrtle Beach bullpen out of Spring Training this year.

Lone Star Dugout recently caught up with the Rangers' new relief prospect.

Jason Cole: Take me through your last few weeks. After playing in the same organization for parts of four years, you've been with three teams in one offseason.

Ryan Kelly: Obviously it's not something you'd really expect. I was preparing to go down to Florida to be with the Pirates––that's who I was with. Then one day I just got a phone call. They said, ‘Some things came up and you ended up going in a trade.' That was to the A's.

Then I'm getting used to that whole thing––that was kind of a shock to me. You're not going into an offseason thinking that you're going to be in a trade. It never really crossed my mind when that happened, and it was kind of a shock.

And then here, two weeks later, I get another phone call from them, saying I've been traded again. I really wasn't expecting that. It was all just a shock. It kind of puts it in perspective that anything can happen.

Cole: Now that you've had some time to digest everything, what are your thoughts on landing with the Rangers organization?

Kelly: There are a lot of good things. After talking with Danny Clark, the pitching coordinator––I talked to him for a little while the other day. He had a lot of good things to say to me. And I did some reading. They gave me the handbook and stuff. There are a lot of good things in there. They're flexible as far as throwing, which is good for a lot of different people. But it's good for me because I like to throw a lot.

Obviously everything is coming down from, in my opinion, the best pitcher of all time. I'm sure a lot of people would agree with me. A lot of the philosophies, from my understanding, are coming from Nolan Ryan. And in learning from the best, you can't go wrong. I'm pretty excited about the whole situation.

Cole: Do you know anybody that's playing in the Rangers organization right now?

Kelly: I do. I went to Walters State Junior College for a year, and I played with a kid named Colby Killian. He was actually my roommate while I was there. He was drafted by Texas last year. And then also Derek Hankins, who played with the Pirates. I don't remember when he got drafted exactly. But I actually just talked to him the other day after he found out I got traded to the Rangers. I guess he signed with the Rangers after being with the Pirates for so many years. He signed with them right after Thanksgiving.

Cole: Chad Bell is another former Walters State pitcher in the organization. But you guys didn't play together, did you?

Kelly: It was the year after. I've met him, but it was for a weekend. I went back there to visit and I met him, but I don't really know him. We weren't there at the same time.

Cole: Having spent so much time in the Pittsburgh system, you were able to get into a real comfort zone there. Now that you'll be going into a new organization, what are your expectations heading into Spring Training?

Kelly: It's obviously going to be a change––not knowing anyone as far as coaches and people like that. It's going to be tough to get used to at first, but I'm a pretty adaptable person. I feel like I'm going to do okay with that. I've been in pro ball for four years now, so I've learned enough about it to expect anything.

Going into Spring Training, my mindset is going to be to get prepared for anything. I want to be prepared for anything that they throw at me. And I'm open for anything. I'm ready to go. I'm with an entire different organization now, and they're going to throw some things at me that I haven't heard before. But I'm ready for that. I'm excited about the whole situation.

Cole: To give people an idea of what you're like on the mound, can you talk a little about what's in your repertoire?

Kelly: I've kind of gone back and forth from doing different things, this last year especially. In the beginning of the year, I was a two-seam fastball/changeup/breaking ball guy. And somewhere in the middle of the year, it started changing.

Toward the later part of the year, I actually ended up throwing from two angles––fastball/curveball––and I was throwing from three-quarters and sidearm back-and-forth. It seemed to work pretty well for me. I don't know how the Rangers feel about that. I don't know if they're going to continue to let me do that or what. But I'm mainly just fastball/curveball. I stay around 93-95 mph and get up to 96 with a plus curveball.

Cole: You repeated the Single-A level last season, pitching out of the bullpen with West Virginia. What were your thoughts on your 2010 season?

Kelly: I had to deal with a lot of different things. I guess I wanted to get out of there so bad that I didn't put up the numbers I should have. I'm definitely a lot better pitcher than I showed over the last couple years. I've battled a few injuries and things like that. That obviously plays a factor into everything.

I guess, in a whole, I learned a lot about myself and a lot about the game of baseball. I learned about the ups-and-downs, dealing with adversity, and all that stuff. But as far as stats are concerned, I'd say it was a disappointing year for me. I definitely wanted to put up better numbers than that. If you look at my numbers, there were a lot of good things within them. If you look at the general numbers, obviously they're not really that good. But there is some little stuff inside that I was pretty happy with.

Cole: It seems you really improved and hit your stride late in the season. What did you feel was behind that improvement?

Kelly: I had a lot of talks with my pitching coach––Jeff Johnson––and also the pitching coordinator for the Pirates. It was kind of a mindset thing, where I just went into everything pitch-by-pitch. I wasn't worrying so much about getting guys out as I was executing a pitch. It slowed the game down a lot for me, and it obviously made everything a lot easier.

And then also, to add on to that, when my numbers started going down is when I dropped down and started throwing sidearm. I did a little bit of that when I was in high school, so I had done it before. But I had never done it with any guidance. Jim Benedict, who is the pitching coordinator, helped me out a little bit with that. I believe he was a sidearm guy when he was in pro ball.

Cole: You touched on the injuries earlier in your career. Can you expand on those a bit?

Kelly: The first year right after I signed, I had a little tendinitis in my elbow during my GCL season. I only threw like 16 innings, I think. And then, going into the short season New York-Penn League, I was healthy the whole year––but I'm not exactly sure because there was no diagnosis of what it was. It was kind of like a tendinitis in my shoulder.

There were no serious injuries. But it was just precautionary things. When you sit out for seven days or whatever without throwing in the Penn League––I went on a month and a half throwing program before I got back into a game. And the season is only so long there. It pretty much ended the season for me when I went down.

Cole: You've logged 69 and 75 innings, respectively, over the last two years. Have any of those injury issues carried over, or have they been healthy seasons?

Kelly: No. I was young and wasn't really prepared for the length of everything. I guess I didn't really prepare myself well enough going into Spring Training at first. But I've really made a point of doing that over the last couple years. Obviously staying healthy is a big part of the game, and you don't want to be one of those guys that's on the shelf all the time. I don't think I will be ever again.

I'm not saying that injuries don't happen, but it's all about how you take care of yourself. I feel like I've got a pretty good thing going for me as far as how I take care of myself, how I do my strengthening, how much I throw, and all that stuff. I keep a pretty good eye on all that with help from trainers and other people, too.

Cole: You'll be reporting to Spring Training in about a month and a half, I presume. Have you started to set some expectations or goals for next season?

Kelly: It's obviously getting a little bit later in my career. I'm not old, but I'm not young––I'm just kind of one of those in-betweens. And it's a put up or shut up. The game of baseball is about getting people out, as far as pitching. It's about getting people out and putting up numbers. I'm not going to say that I have any specific number goals or where I want to end up this season. I don't have any kind of goals like that.

My first goal is going to be to have a good first impression. You only have one first impression, and these are all people I've never met before. A lot of them have never seen me play before. That's my main goal going into Spring Training––to have a good first impression.

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