St. Louis Cardinals: This team needs to free Carson Kelly
By Larry Levin
I defy anyone to make the case as to why St. Louis Cardinals catching prospect Carson Kelly should remain in the minor leagues any longer.
Put aside the tailspin that currently befalls the big-league team in the St. Louis Cardinals organization, which alone might justify the move, but there are plenty of other potent reasons for the need for a catching promotion. The arguments against, by the way, are as weak as Randal Grichuk’s breaking-ball stats.
Carson Kelly is coming up on 3,000 innings behind the plate, and has been roundly praised for his defensive prowess after converting from third base when he was 19 years old.
He’s thrown out 32 percent of baserunners, and while not as important a stat as at other positions, his range factor is impressive. He’s made a total of thirteen errors at four minor-league postings and the Arizona Fall League.
His offensive skills have blossomed as well. The club wasn’t concerned about those too much during his transition, wanting him to focus on the new defensive spot. He’s got a fine .289 batting average, he’s drawn 25 walks, and his slug is in the mid-.400s. In fact, his offense is better than it’s been at any level to date.
Moreover, Yadier Molina is in desperate need of a higher-quality catching partner, whether he wants one or not. While Yadi is notorious for his unwillingness to sit, the team has made a renewed investment in the seven-time All-Star, inking him to a three-year, $60-million extension that will keep him a Cardinal through 2020.
It is possible that Yadi could be the medical miracle that can keep on keeping on at his absurd pace, one that saw him catch 147 games last year. It’s been done; Carlton Fisk is the most notable example of a backstop who was busting over a hundred games a year into his 40s.
But there are signs that age is playing a part in Molina’s current season. He will almost certainly top his career single-season error total this year; his WAR is exactly zero; and his OPS is his second-lowest since 2011.
Simple bad luck or the consequence of having caught so many innings? Well, consider that Yadi is currently 20th all time in major-league games caught in 13-plus seasons.
And no one on the list ahead of him had less than 15 years; in fact, other than Jason Kendall and Jim Sundberg, no one in the top-19 had less than 17 years under their belt.
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So why even risk Yadi’s health and continued durability when there’s a prospect 300 miles away who is coveted by virtually every other MLB organization? Kelly could play a quarter of the time and Yadi could bench it and, when needed, fill in at first base as he has in the past.
There’s another hugely important reason for Kelly to be here, and that is, to learn from one of the all-time greats. With Kelly’s already impressive minor-league catching performance, just imagine what he stands to gain by sitting side-by-side with the Master? That kind of apprenticeship is invaluable.
But wait, you say, doesn’t bringing up Kelly eat into his control by the team for when Yadi is gone? Well, Carson will be 23 soon, and by the time Yadi’s contract is over, he’ll be almost 27.
Would we rather have Kelly as a contributing and learning member of the major-league team while Yadi’s here, or sacrifice some of his most productive years and limit the length of his big-league career?
I, for one, vote for the former.
Next: Randal Grichuk noticing mixed reviews
Ted Simmons was 20 when he rose to the Show. Yadi was 21. Kelly is already almost two years older. He’s shown tremendous poise and capability as an on-field leader in the minors. Like fresh cream, it’s time to let him rise to the top. Free Carson Kelly.