(BaseballStL) -- In every young player’s development, there comes a moment when the enormous amount of preparation and effort required to play major league baseball becomes fully evident.
Some embrace it and give themselves over to it. Others find the challenge to taxing, the time required too intrusive.
St. Louis Cardinal prospect Carson Kelly has seen the challenge and has accepted it.
Kelly, the Cards’ second round pick in 2012 out of Westview High School in Portland, Ore., was on the organization’s fast track a year ago, said Cards’ skipper Mike Matheny. But Kelly was just 17 when he was drafted and was on a pace for which he was not prepared. After being promoted from rookie league to Class A Peoria, he struggled and was sent to low Class A State College, Pa. for additional instruction.
“That was a very good decision,” Matheny said.
“We really liked his skill set (coming out of high school). We looked at how we envisioned him and he profiled as potentially an everyday third baseman for us. He’s a natural leader and has a physical presence. We liked the way he swung the bat. If you watch him, there’s just an aura about him. If you watch the people around him, how they react to him, you get a sense that this kid has got it.”
When Kelly struggled a little for the Peoria Chiefs, the Cardinals decided to give him a chance to step back and start over. And at the end of 2013, they did something else for him. “We told him we have a very good catcher up here but he can’t catch forever. We talked to him about switching from third base to catcher.”
Kelly worked at extended Spring training for about six weeks and then received an invitation from Matheny to work out for him and catching instructor Jamie Pogue in St. Louis in early January.
“We wanted to look at his mechanics and see where he was,” Matheny said. “We made a few minor tweaks in his set up and talked to him about the mental aspect of catching, game calling, the philosophy we want our catchers to have and the relationships they need to develop.”
Kelly’s initiation into the fraternity of the hardest-working athletes in sports continued this spring when the 20-year-old received an invitation to the Cardinals big league camp where he worked out under the watchful eye of Yadier Molina.
“It was important for Carson to see how Yadi goes about his business,” Matheny said. “He needed to see the effort that Yadi puts in day after day. Yadi went out of his way to help him, like he does all young players. Carson listens very well and asks a lot of questions. Yadi has a good eye for what youngsters can do and he told me he thought Carson had a chance to make it.”
The lessons Kelly learned in camp have transferred nicely to his role as the everyday catcher for the Chiefs. His average continues to climb (.265 in his last 10 games) and his catching improves daily.
One thing Kelly is learning as he grinds through the hot dusty months of summer in an unforgiving position is how much catching wears on you, something Matheny, himself a multiple Gold Glover, knows well.
“He has to learn how hard it is to be back there every day because that position wears you down. You can’t ever take a pitch off. You learn that poor play at that position will hurt a team worse than poor play anywhere else.”
Despite all those obstacles, Matheny believes Kelly has the right physical and mental make-up to advance through the Cardinal’s system. And he made it clear, he liked the young man.
“His parents did a really good job with him,” the Cards’ skipper said.