Carson Kelly’s black book keeps him focused as he grinds through - KMOV.com

Carson Kelly’s black book keeps him focused as he grinds through minor system.

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St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, left, talks with fellow catcher Carson Kelly during spring training baseball practice Sunday, Feb. 21, 2016, in Jupiter, Fla. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson) St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, left, talks with fellow catcher Carson Kelly during spring training baseball practice Sunday, Feb. 21, 2016, in Jupiter, Fla. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
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    In a far corner of left field, a solitary figure in full uniform stands quietly, watching as a group of players practice sliding, their frenzied gait halted with a mid-air lunge onto the safety of sliding bags laid out by watching coaches. He has slid many times in his life. In 1985, he led the league with 56 stolen bases. He perfected the art of sliding and knows what a good slide looks like, and what it doesn’t.

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    In a far corner of left field, a solitary figure in full uniform stands quietly, watching as a group of players practice sliding, their frenzied gait halted with a mid-air lunge onto the safety of sliding bags laid out by watching coaches. He has slid many times in his life. In 1985, he led the league with 56 stolen bases. He perfected the art of sliding and knows what a good slide looks like, and what it doesn’t.

    More >

JUPITER, Fla. – Everywhere he goes, Carson Kelly carries with him a small black book. In it are sayings, quotes and notes to himself. Some quotes come from coaches, fellow Cardinals, or are just observations that he finds pertinent to his career as what many believe is the catcher-in-waiting for the St. Louis Cardinals. The contents are shared with no one.

“It keeps me centered, on line,” he says, with that ever present smile and unrestrainedly positive attitude. “The things in this book keep me focused whether it’s going well or badly.”

Kelly has experienced both. A second round pick out of Westview High School in Portland, Ore., in the 2012 draft, Kelly was originally a third baseman until the Redbird staff approached him about converting to catcher.

“I’m very happy I made the switch. It has become part of me; it feels natural now.”

Catching is all about knowing the game and the situation and reacting accordingly.  “The little things that I was so focused on before just come naturally to me now. I know the situation, what pitch to call and how to move infielders.”

Kelly’s mental maturity has been matched by his physical development. Just 170 pounds when he was first interviewed by BaseballStL in 2013, Kelly is now 6-2, 220 pounds. Physically and emotionally, he is developing into the player the Cardinals hoped he would be. Still, he has much to learn and master, particularly at the plate. He hit just .219 last year at Palm Beach (high Class A) and has a career average of .239. He has displayed some power, but lacked consistency, something he worked on diligently last winter. “I had a good off-season,” Kelly said. “I did Pilates to help with my flexibility and core strength. Half of hitting is confidence, repetition and faith in the process,” he says. “I have to have faith in myself.”

This season, he is focused on fine points that fans often don’t notice, like tendencies that give away pitches to the opposition and can lose ballgames. “For example,” he says, “sometimes a catcher will clap his glove for a curveball and won’t do it for a fastball. Or he will move his knee position slightly or position the infielders or outfielders in a certain way depending on what he calls that will tip the pitch that is coming. If you do something differently at certain times, teams will exploit that quickly.”

Grinding through long seasons behind the plate is made easier by the stability of his family and the encouragement of the Cardinal players and manager Mike Matheny. “I talk to my folks almost every day. They pushed me and gave me the confidence to succeed. The guys here are great if I have a question. Everybody here is willing to help each other because we all want to win.”

In life and baseball, Kelly draws his strength from manager Mike Matheny. “He’s helped me a ton. He’s always pushing me to get better. He gets on me and I respond to that. I’ve learned a lot from him. We’re always talking, not just about baseball, but life in general. I think a relationship comes first, before baseball.”

In the earlier interview, Matheny said he watched the way other players responded to Kelly and knew immediately that he had leadership qualities that are essential in catchers.  “I want to be a good person,” Kelly says. “If baseball goes away, that’s what counts. Leadership is learnable. But I first have to lead myself before I can lead others. I can’t get down when I’m not hitting. I have to continue to show that positive energy to other players.”

Time is not the friend of minor league players. Every passing year brings a wave of new draft picks, looking to move up, pressuring the veterans even more. Kelly is just 21 and has time to mature and improve. “Rome was not built in a day. Every day, I learn little things (that makes me better). Every year, every experience is a building block.

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