By Perry Gordon, from Cardsblog.com
September is an exciting time for baseball. Teams who are in the postseason picture play every game like it is surrounded in a playoff atmosphere. Struggling teams call up their top prospects and showcase them for the future, utilizing the expanded roster that September brings. The Cardinals are luckily playing for the postseason and showcasing the future.
The Cardinals first September move only used three of the 15 extra spots, activating Matt Adams, Brayan Pena, and calling up prospect Carson Kelly. The team then called up two more bullpen arms and one life-long minor league outfielder. Now, General Manager John Mozeliak feels that some of his minor league players who could factor in to the future are better off getting their at bats in the big leagues than in the minors just to give them a taste of what the future holds.
When John Mozeliak dealt Jon Jay to the Padres in exchange for Jedd Gyorko, the original intent was simply to use him in a "super utility" role. The Cardinals' second baseman of the present and future was supposedly already on the roster in the form of Kolten Wong.
The fact that the only big time prospect call-up was Kelly means they plan on utilizing him. Currently they are carrying four catchers: Yadier Molina, Pena, Alberto Rosario, and Kelly. Out of those four, only Rosario and Kelly are under 30 years old. Granted, Rosario has not had as much wear and tear on his knees as the others have, but lacks the experience to be a reliable back up catcher.
Carson Kelly the catcher
Kelly is undoubtedly the best defensive catcher of the four. Yes Cardinals fans, he is better than Yadi. Yadi is a first ballot hall of famer and has a tremendous career, but to put things in perspective, Yadi currently has over 13,000 innings of experience behind the plate, which puts him 28th on the all-time list while playing for fewer seasons than anyone in front of him. He has had so much wear and tear on his body that he simply cannot move the way he used to.
Kelly’s bat is average at best, but his defense is so impressive it has scouts saying that he will be a “1st division regular at catcher (John Manuel).” Kelly is the most polished catcher coming into MLB. His framing and blocking abilities are second to none. While his arm has room to improve, his footwork and quick hands makes up for it.
The only way to tell how important Kelly’s value will be is to look at Yadi. The Cardinals need their All-Star catcher to be fresh for the postseason. They cannot rest him because they’re in a heated playoff race and have to keep him behind the plate because there’s no designated hitter in the National League. The Cardinals have toyed with putting him at first for his entire career, but he has only played 80 innings there in 13 seasons. Kelly gives Matheny a late inning option to put in for defensive purposes. Kelly can be trusted and will only improve by learning under Molina. He would gain needed experience in handling a pitching staff, while he has never done it at the Major League’s level, he is a quick learner and will be able to pick it up quickly.
Carson Kelly the hitter
Though not as important, Kelly’s bat picked up tremendously over the past two seasons. During his 2016 campaign, he held a .289 average with a .395 slugging. Currently though, it is more important for Kelly to focus defensively. He was brought up to take stress off of Molina’s legs not his bat. Also for most catchers making their debuts, their hitting comes later in their career because they are told to focus on their defense (See Molina circa 2004).
Kelly is coming into the perfect situation. He will be asked to play strong defense, which is his strength, and worry less about everything else. He will be able to learn under Molina but will also have 4 time Gold Glove Catcher Mike Matheny to teach him. Matheny played 13 years in the MLB as a catcher for several teams including the Cardinals. There are many parallels with Matheny and Kelly. Both were defensive specialists who’s bat came second. Also both players are oversized for the position, Matheny at 6’3” and Kelly at 6’2”.
Matheny has expressed that he sees great talent in Kelly and is excited for his future. "He can hit, I don't care what he hit last year. Same conversations we had about (Magneuris) Sierra. Just young kids. Things can snowball. You just can't make one season define these kids. You watch what (Kelly) does, the little things he does, and you can see he is going to hit. And I would imagine, I would go ahead and predict a big offensive year for him this year."(St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
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When he gets his chance, expect Kelly to make the most out of it. The 22-year-old has all the talent in the world and should be nothing short of extraordinary. He’ll get a taste of what it’s like to be in the pros this season and hopefully he’ll make a big splash.
His first major league hit sure did.