Carson Kelly – Catcher, Age 22
Over more than a decade, one constant has been with the St. Louis Cardinals: Yadier Molina. However, Molina is 34 and isn’t getting younger, despite setting a number of career highs in 2016. His departure looms on every Cardinals fans’ mind and it surely haunts John Mozeliak when he thinks about the future of the organization. However, there looks to be an in-house solution when considering Carson Kelly.
Carson Kelly, 22-years old, was a highly touted prospect from Portland, Oregon for the 2012 MLB Draft. His hitting potential projected enough power to be a third baseman at the major league level but his bat didn’t quite develop as planned. He also was pitching at the time and was reaching the lower 90’s from the mound.
However, the Cardinals decided to draft him in the second round (86th overall). He was 18 at the time and started the 2013 season with the Low-A Peoria Chiefs as a third baseman. He was 3.3 years below the league’s average age and it showed at the plate. He batted .219/.288/.301 over 168 plate appearances and was demoted. Kelly bounced back in the New York-Penn League hitting .277/.340/.387 over 299 PAs and showed the Cardinals his potential.
Even though his bat showed signs of life, his defense at third base flatlined. He committed 27 errors over 144 games at the hot corner but the Cardinals did not want to give up on him. At the time, the farm system was overloaded with pitching depth so John Mozeliak and the front office decided to try Kelly, at 19-years old, as a catcher for the 2014 season.
This turned out to be a great decision as Kelly won the Rawlings Minor League Gold Glove award for his defensive prowess behind the plate in only his second year at the position (2015). He carried that success into 2016 and capped off a successful stint in the Arizona Fall League.
Kelly slashed .286/.387/.455 in 21 games and 77 at-bats. Of his 22 total hits, he managed four doubles, three home runs, and knocked in 18 RBIs which was second among all AFL batters. He also showed patience at the plate and recorded 13 walks.
Now, Carson Kelly has successfully emerged as the heir to Yadier Molina. Molina’s shoes will be impossible to fill, but Kelly has overcome a number of obstacles to make it this far. Keep in mind that Kelly is still only 22-years old and made his first major league appearance this September.
Evidenced by the decision to DFA back-up catcher Brayan Pena, the St. Louis Cardinals are committing to Carson Kelly as their future catcher. He will likely serve as Yadier Molina’s backup in the 2017 season and will learn directly from Molina on a daily basis. That step in Kelly’s development can do wonders and work similarly to Molina learning from former catcher and now manager Mike Matheny.