Carson Kelly hadn’t regularly gotten behind the plate since 8th grade, but when approached by St. Louis Cardinals Farm Director Gary LaRoque about making the transition from third base to catcher, the 19-year old welcomed the chance.
“I was all ears and ready to go,”recalled Kelly. “There’s a lot of room to improve, all parts of my game. I think this opportunity enhances my value as a player. Being able to play third and to catch, that enhances my value to an organization.”
“I still take my groundballs every day just in case something happens and you have to go in and play third, outfield, whatever.”
Kelly, who was a 2nd Round selection of the Cardinals in the 2012 Amateur Draft (Westview High School, Portland OR) has put up respectable power numbers in his first two minor league seasons–15 HRs, 70 RBIs, and 32 doubles in 169 games.
“When you look at his skill sets from an offensive standpoint we thought he could be a special offensive player,” said General Manager John Mozeliak. “A lot of people felt like putting him behind the plate could turn him into something very unique. He was up for it. He’ll be tested this spring and we’ll see where it goes.”
And after working with Dan Bilardello and Erik Pappas in the Instructional League, where Kelly has gone to now is Yadier Molina.
“He’s the best in the game,” smiled Kelly. “I’m here to learn from the best in the game and Mike—there’s a ton of support here.”
“Right now, to concentrate on doing the technique right,” shared Molina on his advice. “It’s important to do the technique right—don’t worry about anything else. Just try to get the technique first of all and then concentrate about anything else later on.”
And Kelly is taking note of everything Molina shares—both mentally and in a notebook he began keeping after he was drafted. Keeping a journal is not unlike the practice still employed by Cardinal Manager Mike Matheny.
“A big part of Carson making this transition is that he’s suited it for it very well,” stated Matheny. “He just has a demeanor to him, he has some leadership qualities that you can even see in a young player in a young career.”
“We’re really using this camp as an opportunity to just kind of amplify his growth, not really throwing him in the fire to have to prove anything except to learn.”
Kelly joins Tony Cruz, Ed Easley, Audry Perez, Casey Rasmus, Cody Stanley, and Travis Tartamella as the other catchers in camp.
While still an MVP-caliber player, Molina will turn 32 this season and understands that Kelly or any of the other young catchers could be the future Cardinals backstop.
“It’s going to happen to everybody,” realizes Molina. “I got an opportunity to have a leader like Mike and coaching staff that helped me a lot. The things that I learned from them, I just to pass it along to with the young guys and hopefully when they in my position with many years, they can do the same thing with a young guy too.”
Always aware of succession plans, Mozeliak isn’t ruling out a young catcher such as Kelly maturing into the heir apparent, but reminds of the reality of just how difficult that will be.
“It’d be nice to know something like that might be coming, but thinking about somebody trying to replace Yadi is hard to envision. When you think about that position across the league—the American League as well, there’s only two or three guys who come to mind. That’s rarefied air.”
Besides studying the art of catching, Kelly is taking online classes such as Calculus as he works towards an Economics degree with Oregon State University. And like most 19-year olds, he finds time for Xbox–playing 2K14 and preparing for a Call of Duty battle against Joe Kelly.