For years, we knew this time was coming: when Yadier Molina would be replaced as the starting catcher for the St. Louis Cardinals.
While the day has not arrived, yet, it is getting close.
Yadier Molina is 34 years-old and is getting to the point in his career where regular days off are not just something to discuss. They are probably mandatory.
For years, we have talked about the Cardinals finding the heir apparent to Molina, and in 2012, the team may have done just that. During that year's draft, they selected Carson Kelly, an Oregon product out of Westview High School.
Kelly was a tremendous hitter in high school, but played third base. The move to catcher was going to take quite a bit of time to manifest.
Then, a funny thing happened. Kelly didn’t hit much to start his professional career. While the young up-and-coming catcher was working diligently to learn a new position, he wasn’t able to spend as much time working on his hitting.
In 2012, he had a .662 OPS. That number jumped slightly to .679 in 2013, and then to .692 the next year before plummeting to .594 in 2015.
Even though Kelly had been honored for his defense throughout the minor leagues (a testament to the hard work he’d put in over the years), it really wouldn’t matter all that much if he didn’t contribute offensively.
You can’t be Yadier Molina’s heir apparent without hitting at least a little.
The year 2016 changed the game though. After spending several years focusing solely on defense, Carson Kelly made sure he was focusing on his offense this year; and it showed.
He produced a .289 batting average with a .738 OPS across Double-A and Triple-A before getting a brief taste of life in the big leagues late in the season. That success has really changed the perception, at least outside the Cardinals organization, of what Kelly can do in the future.
Now that the Cardinals have designated catcher Brayan Pena for assignment to make room for lefty reliever Brett Cecil on the 40-man roster, there is room for Kelly in 2016.
It might make the most sense to have him in Triple-A to start the season and get regular at-bats for Memphis while Yadier Molina plays every day (he’s the most fresh at the start of the season). Then the Cards could bring Kelly up after the All Star break and have him split the catching duties with Molina.
That would allow Kelly to continue his development while also keeping Molina fresh for the stretch run in 2016.
The whole game has changed with regards to replacing Yadier Molina one day. Maybe the Cardinals always believed Carson Kelly would be that guy – even when he struggled offensively early in his career. But many certainly did not think he’d reach this point.
Kelly is ready to back up Molina this year and eventually replace him full time whenever that time comes.
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