Prospect #3, Catcher Carson Kelly
Age At The Start Of The 2018 Season: 23
Drafted In The 2nd Round Of The 2012 Draft
AAA wRC+: 120 MLB wRC+: 25
In conjunction with my friend Colin Garner over at The Redbird Daily, we present to you our combined list of the Top 30 Prospects in the Cardinals organization! Every other day for the next two months, From January 28th until March 29th, we will be presenting you with an exhaustive evaluation on each of the top 30 prospects in the organization starting with prospect #30 and counting down to prospect #1. This is our combined list, not our own individual lists. For additional information on how we came these rankings, CLICK HERE. Without further delay, we present...
Kyle Reis (Prospect #3 On Personal List, Prior To Combining Lists With Colin Garner)
I usually start with what I like about a player, but with Carson Kelly, I'm going to start with what I don't like about a player.
What I don't like about Carson Kelly is the way that the Cardinals handled him 2017. We should be damning the Cardinals for the potential-retarding that they may have damned this young man too.
Kelly was called up to the majors on July 21st to be Yadier Molina's backup. Initially, the thought was that there would be enough playing time that Carson would receive, at least, a modest number of at-bats. Kelly did start the first game he was eligible to. It was against the Cubs after Yadi mysteriously began to deal with ankle soreness and was scratched from the start. It looked like the Cardinals had a plan to get this incredibly talented young man the playing time needed for his development to continue.
Of course, it never got to that point. What happened instead, was Mike Matheny made a not-too-thought out statement about Yadi's stamina, Yadi took to Instagram to vent, and all "S" hit the fan. Yadi started nearly every game from the moment Kelly was added to the major league roster. Kelly did start seven of the last eight games of the season, but that was only after the Molina suffered a concussion. If you're keeping track at home, that means that Kelly started just six of the teams 57 between the first game he was eligible to play and the last eight games of the season.
That history lesson was to show you that there is no possible way of appraising how Kelly did at the major league level in 2017 because the Cardinals completely messed up the situation. You don't treat the development of one of you few elite-ceilinged players so willy-nilly. You don't call up a 23-year-old backstop that needs to play only to have him waste away on your bench. You need to have more foresight than that. You need to be able to adjust when your plan doesn't go the way that you think it is going to. As we saw this spring, the Cardinals could have severely compromised Kelly's future. His spring performance was easily the worst that he's looked in the organization. He looked a little better than when he first started catching.
Also, it wasn't like Kelly was hammering the ball when the Cardinals called him up. From June 1st until his last game at Triple-A on July 19th, Kelly was only hitting 229/339/349/687 with seven extra-base hits in 109 at-bats. He needed at-bats. It was apparent to everyone. Except for the Cardinals brass that is. Kelly is a smart kid, and I could easily see him regaining the status that he once held as a top of the line prospect. Right now, that status has taken a hit.
The good news is, there is still a lot to like about Carson Kelly. While his defense appeared to slip a little during spring training, all of the skills are still there to max-out as an elite defensive catcher. He's capable of blocking balls in the dirt better than any catcher in the minors. He has a plus arm with great pop-time. Pitchers and coaches rave about his ability to call a game from behind the plate. I believe that we'll be hearing about Kelly reclaiming his defensive prowess by the mid part of the season. He's been too good in the past to be anything less than above-average moving forward.
I'm not the biggest fan of players that are continuously making changes to their swing like Kelly has over the last two or three seasons, but I'm a big fan of the plate coverage that he's always displayed. Kelly worked this offseason to increase his launch angle, and I'm hoping that it pays off. I'd hate to see him make too many adjustments at the plate, but he'll do himself well to increase the number of home runs and doubles he's capable of hitting.
One thing that's for sure, Carson Kelly has advanced plate discipline. He has a career minor league strikeout rate of 14.2% with a walk rate of 7.3%. Both of those numbers were dragged in the wrong direction by struggles early in his career while he was a teen. Last season in Memphis, Kelly had an incredible walk rate of 11.8% with a career-steady strikeout rate of 14.3%. He did this after an impressive turn in the 2016 Arizona Fall League. There, he walked 13 times while only striking out four, FOUR, times in 94 plate appearances. Kelly was just starting to come into his own as a defined hitter when the Cardinals called upon him.
More important than anything, I like that Kelly is going to start the season catching every day for Memphis. Going back to Memphis and beginning there is so essential for his development. Had Kelly been kept on the 25 man roster to waste away as Yadi's back up again, he most certainly would have faded into oblivion. Now he'll have a chance to regain his prospect standing while honing his tools and getting the need reps. It's been an unfortunate journey for the 23-year-old backstop, but now is the time to make it right again.
If I'm comparing Carson Kelly to anyone, it's Austin Hedges. Hedges was a "defense first" catcher and perennial top 100 prospects when the Padres called on him too early in his development. It set his career back a good three years or so and forced him to change his approach at the plate. The problem is, the emphasize change of offensive approach hurt Hedges defensive skills. Hopefully, that doesn't happen with Carson. If it all works out, I stand by what I've been saying about Carson Kelly for two years now: he'll be a modern-day Benito Santiago.
As always, these articles can't be done without Fangraphs and Baseball Reference. They are equally as reliant on the skills of Cardinalsgif's and NChill17. It's a pleasure to do this list with my friend Colin Garner at The Redbird Daily.
Thanks For Reading!