Yadier Molina’s replacement: Carson Kelly

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Today’s topic is the future replacement of Yadier Molina. If you haven’t noticed the last few years, the 33 year old back stop is not getting any younger. Molina knows it (see his slim down last offseason), the team knows it, and now we as fans are starting to notice this. The problem in all of this, Molina is absolutely the best defensive catcher in the game right now, and at least one of the best of all time.

Further proof of this, since Molina took over the full time starting catcher role in 2005, there have only been three seasons in which the Cardinals have not had a pitcher receive a Cy-Young vote, (2007, 2008, 2011) with Chris Carpenter receiving the award in 2005, and he and Wainwright coming in second multiple times.

So, the Cardinals are in a bit of situation here. They don’t have a valuable backup in Tony Cruz in any stretch of the imagination and it’s probably high time that they get someone to take innings away from Molina. They also have to scramble to find someone in the organization worthy of taking over for Molina in a couple of years when his contract is up, as that will likely do it for Molina and his career.

Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

So, I am going to take a look into who I think that player is going to be. Over the past few weeks me and the other staff here at Redbird Rants have told you that Mike Ohlman has a good shot to become a good major league player and nudge his way into the future catcher consideration.

However, Ohlman despite his strong offensive numbers, may have some limitations defensively. The Cardinals for a period of sixteen years have had one of the best defensive catchers behind the plate most nights, in Mike Matheny and Yadier Molina. So, it is clear the organization has placed a high importance on the position defensively over the years.

So, with that said, the option right now has to be Carson Kelly. Kelly was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2012 MLB Draft out of Westview High School in Portland, OR. He was drafted as a third baseman and played his first two professional seasons there. However, after posting 27 errors in 144 games at the position it was clear that he was not going to work out at that position. So, the Cardinals decided to transition him to the catcher position during the winter before the 2014 season.

This was a really good idea for the team and a shrewd find for the minor league staff to figure that Kelly could make the transition to the toughest defensive position on the field. While Kelly has struggled at the plate for most of his professional seasons (.248 and .219 average the past two seasons), he has also shown promise. Kelly has had a knack for hitting a decent amount of extra-base hits(67 doubles and 39 homers in his career), for a guy who has been learning a new position and had a low average. Kelly also had a .277 average in 70 games for the State College Spikes in 2013, so the promise is there that he may develop into something valuable offensively.

However, that is not something I am worried about. John Nagel of Viva El Birdos (who is absolutely a fantastic follow for minor league updates), was able to secure some quotes from a few Cardinals pitching prospects on Kelly’s catching ability and they all had high praise for the catcher in just his second ever year at the position. Most notably, Alexander Reyes said that Matheny is the only catcher who has ever caught him better than Kelly. That’s pretty high praise coming from the organization’s top pitching prospect. 

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Don’t take our word for it, let’s take a look at what defensive stats we do have to measure Kelly on. The past two season, Kelly has registered a 33% and a 36% caught stealing percentage. Granted these are not Yadier Molina numbers, but they are still pretty good, as league average this season was 28%.

Kelly’s defensive prowess also shows in the pass ball department, as Kelly improved from allowing 13 last season to allowing just six this season. Molina has never allowed more than 8 in an entire season, again Kelly is in good company.

There’s not much out there in terms of how a catcher handles a pitching staff, but looking at team ERA is something that we can point to. The Palm Beach staff had an ERA of 2.65 (best in Florida State League) this season as they had three of the Cardinals’ best young pitching talents in Alex Reyes, Rob Kaminsky (formerly), and Luke Weaver. Not all of this points to Kelly’s pitching ability. However, Kelly should get credit for working with this staff to the league’s best ERA, just as Molina gets for managing the big club to the best ERA in baseball. Not only is he getting praise from me and those around the Cardinals’ organization, Kelly is getting national consideration as well, being named the minor league gold glove award winner at catcher.

So, looking to the future for Kelly, I would hope the organization has seen enough of Kelly’s defensive ability to move him up to AA next season to replace Mike Ohlman, who will likley start the year in AAA. Despite Kelly’s struggles offensively, I am ok with the club advancing Kelly along with Luke Weaver to Springfield. Let the two continue to work together and to allow Kelly to get better as a defensive catcher and offensively and in a hitter friendly Texas League.

As long as Molina can still be a dominant catcher, he is going to be behind the plate for St. Louis, but as Molina starts to break down and is inching closer to retirement. We will be in good hands with Carson Kelly behind the plate. He has plenty of time to continue to improve both defensively and offensively and I for one am excited to see what he can become.

Next: Mets providing blueprint to beat Cubs

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