This article was originally published at the Redbird Daily by Colin Garner, and is now proud to call the Cards Conclave home. Throughout July, we’ll be re-running all 30 Prospect articles as we lead up to Colin’s Mid-Season Prospect Update later in the month.
In Collaboration with Kyle Reis and Birds On The Black, Colin Garner presents you with The Cardinals Top 30 Prospects! Today, we have #3, Carson Kelly.
3. Carson Kelly – C
2nd Round – 2012 Draft
Entering age-23 season
AAA wRC+: 120; MLB wRC+: 25
|2017||22||STL-min||AAA||68||280||244||37||69||13||0||10||41||0||2||33||40||.283||.375||.459||.834||112||11||3||0||0||0||MEM · PCL|
What I Like
Despite the prospect fatigue that has undoubtedly set in with regards to Carson Kelly, he’s still an elite defensive catcher. According to MLB Pipeline, he’s still the number 46 overall prospect and the second-best catcher. I have certain disagreements with how Pipeline ranks prospects, but in this case, the 30,000-foot perspective is insightful.
No, Kelly hasn’t hit yet at the major league level. Consider, though, that he got just 75 plate appearances in three months in the big leagues, and 28 of them came in the last week of the season. It’s hard enough to hit major league pitching, but throw in inconsistent playing time and the mental and physical demands of catching, and struggles are at least understandable.
Defensively, Kelly is as advanced as they come behind the plate. He won the minor league Gold Glove Award back in 2015 (when his offensive numbers were swallowed whole by the FSL), and has continued to improve. His receiving is exceptional; I wrote about it extensively in January and compared him to both Andrew Knizner and Yadier Molina.
It’s astonishing, but Carson Kelly threw better than Yadi last year according to Statcast. On average, Molina’s throws to second (28 attempts) were 83.3 miles-per-hour and average pop time to second base was 1.97 seconds. Kelly’s throws (only two attempts) were harder, at 84.1 miles-per-hour and his average pop time was 1.96 seconds. Accuracy is far more important than that hundredth of a second, but being in the same range as one of the greatest defensive catchers of all time is a good place to start.
In the words of John Mozeliak, Kelly had a “robust” offensive year in Memphis. His strikeout and walk rates of 11 and 14 percent respectively were well above average. Mix in ten homers and a .283 average and you have a player 20% above average in a hitter-friendly league.
What I Don’t Like
Carson Kelly would be the starting catcher on a lot of major league teams. I have mixed feelings on Molina’s extension only because I’m so confident Kelly will be a productive player in the big leagues. (On the other hand, I grew up with Molina behind the plate and want him to retire a Cardinal. Why do things have to be complicated?)
At some point, Kelly needs to hit in the majors, in an everyday role or not. With Molina, who prides himself on playing 174 games a year (a seemingly arbitrary number until you consider 162 regular season games, one All-Star Games, and 11 postseason games to win the World Series), the manager won’t sit Molina for the sake of Kelly’s development. He needs to force his way into the lineup with hits.In his week of starts last September, Kelly didn’t do much to instill confidence. He hit .148/.179/.148 in an obviously way-too-small sample size to really matter, but it’s the most consistent data set we have to work with.
Even though the Cardinals demoted Kelly, he’ll be in St. Louis this season. If I had to guess it’d be before the All-Star break. If you watched the exhibition in Montreal last night, you saw that Francisco Pena isn’t half the catcher Carson Kelly is. He dropped several would-be strikes, cost Lyons a strikeout by assuming it’d be a called strike three, and didn’t communicate with Greg Garcia on a foul pop up that dropped.
Molina has caught over 130 games in each of the last three seasons. I don’t know what exactly the probability is that that trend continues, but I can’t imagine it’s very high. Kelly will get his chance, and I hope he makes the most of it.
Thanks for reading!