(BaseballStL) -- Sometimes on the way to The Show, you have to take a step backwards before you can go forward.
Carson Kelly, the St. Louis Cardinals’ second round draft pick in 2012, took that small step backward, righted the ship, and now appears poised to advance.
Kelly was one of the players interviewed for BaseballSTL’s “Cardinal Way” series in early May when the Chiefs faced the Chicago Cubs’ low Class A team, the Kane County Cougars.
Kelly was the top prospect in the Pacific Northwest in the 2012 draft class and some teams looked at him as both a hitter and a pitcher since he threw 92 mph from the mound. He had a scholarship to the University of Oregon, causing the Cardinals to spend way over the pick value to sign him. But at 6-2, 200 pounds, the Redbirds felt he had vast potential as a third baseman because of his arm, above average power and potentially, a solid average.
But Kelly was just 18 when he started the season at Peoria and while the Cards wanted to give him a look at that level, Kelly struggled, hitting just .219 there in 42 games.
“I was more interested in the results than I was the process of hitting,” Kelly says. “When I didn’t hit, I got down on myself and worried about the numbers. Coach (Erik) Pappas and (manager Dann Bilardello) tried to help me stay positive but I needed to work on my approach to hitting.”
And so he was sent to the Cardinals’ short season A club in State College, Pa. for intensive instruction and a chance to get some confidence. That move has paid enormous dividends.
Kelly gives a lot of the credit for his turnaround to manager Oliver Marmol and hitting instructor Ramon Ortiz. “They worked with me on mechanics, but mostly they helped me concentrate on my approach; taking the same swing every time and staying with what was working, not expanding the strike zone or taking bad swings. They told me that if I bat four times and hit the ball hard twice, I’ve had a good day, whether I made outs or not. They told me the results would take care of themselves.”
And have they ever.
Kelly’s initial struggles continued early, and at State College in June, he hit just .217. But the change in his approach and the development of the mental aspect of the game clicked as he celebrated his 19th birthday in July. Kelly hit .317 in July and .321 so far in August, raising his average in State College to .298 in 59 games with an OPS of .770. But what is even more impressive is the late season tear he has been on. In his last five games, Kelly is 13-22 with a pair of doubles and a home run, evidence that the power and hitting performance they expected from this youngster has begun to blossom.
“I’m seeing the ball better and we’ve simplified everything about my swing,” he said. “I’ve been gaining confidence and feel like I’ve really found myself.”
After the season ends on Sept. 2, Kelly will return home to catch up with his family – and continue to build on the success he enjoyed this summer.