St. Louis Cardinals: Carson Kelly Getting High Praise

Nov 5, 2016; Surprise, AZ, USA; West catcher Carson Kelly of the St Louis Cardinals during the Arizona Fall League Fall Stars game at Surprise Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 5, 2016; Surprise, AZ, USA; West catcher Carson Kelly of the St Louis Cardinals during the Arizona Fall League Fall Stars game at Surprise Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

The St. Louis Cardinals’ top catching prospect, Carson Kelly, is receiving high praise around the MLB.

Who takes over as the St. Louis Cardinals catcher when the time comes for Yadier Molina to pack it in? It’s a question St. Louis Cardinals fans started wondering about in 2014 when Molina missed 52 games with a torn ligament in his right thumb.

That year, Tony Cruz and A.J. Pierzynski filled in for Molina and the results were dreadful. Combined, the pair of backstops hit .216 with two homers, seven doubles and 23 RBI. It wasn’t pretty, and it left many Cardinals fans to wonder who will take over one day when Molina is done.

Then this name started to pop up in 2015 — Carson Kelly.

Kelly, a converted third baseman, won the minor league gold glove award in 2015 in just his second full season behind the plate and suddenly the Cardinals had a future catcher.

The 22-year old has impressed so much behind the plate that the only worry early on was if his bat would come around. It did in 2016. Last season at Double-A, Kelly hit .287 with seven doubles and six homers in 64 games before making the jump to Triple-A Memphis. There, he hit .292 with zero homers but 10 doubles and 14 RBI in 32 games before getting his first call to the Majors last September to get his feet wet with the big boys.

Kelly didn’t get much playing time with St. Louis at the big league level last year. The September call-up was most likely to reward him for his strong 2016 campaign and give Kelly a more behind the curtain look at his mentor, Molina.

Once winter came, Kelly reported to the Arizona Fall League where he continued to impress with a .286/.387/.455 line, three homers, four doubles, 18 RBI and only four strikeouts in 21 games. Now, Kelly is receiving high praise not just within the Cardinals’ organization but around the MLB.

In his Top 10 Cardinals prospects piece for Baseball America, St. Louis Post-Dispatch writer Derrick Goold ranked Kelly as the Cardinals fourth best prospect going into the 2017 season — quite a high jump from the 11th ranking Kelly received last year. Goold stated that Kelly will start the year back in Triple-A Memphis and if injury strikes Molina again then Kelly will get the call to start in his place.

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Most recently, columnist, Jonathan Mayo, took the Kelly praise a step further stating that:

"A very good argument could be made that Kelly is now the best all-around catching prospect in the game. The converted infielder looks very comfortable behind the plate and has the natural leadership teams covet at the position."

Indeed, Kelly was a name brought up at Winter Meetings when the Cardinals were possibly looking to trade for an outfielder. But Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak showed his confidence in the catching prospect by taking his name off the table in any trade talks.

There is no doubt that, if he continues to progress as he has, Kelly is the Cardinals future behind the plate. The interesting wrinkle to all of this is that Molina had quite a good season last year and caught a career high 1,218.1 innings. Unsurprisingly, Molina’s camp is said to be seeking an extension with the Cardinals and his agent hopes to address contract talks before the start of Opening Day.

It will be interesting to see how Mozeliak and the Cardinals handle this situation in the years to come. Molina proved last year that despite being 34 years old he may have quite a bit left in the tank. Molina already is one of the greatest Cardinal catchers of all time and will go down as one of the best in the MLB. But will he be willing to pave the way for Kelly later on in his career, and just when will the time come for Kelly to take the reins?

Next: Cardinals: Comparing Brian Dozier and Kolten Wong

Time will tell, but for now Cardinals fans can relish that Molina is still a premier catcher, and St. Louis may have another one waiting in the wings in Carson Kelly. Thanks for reading.