With the 86th overall pick in the 2nd Round of the 2012 Amateur Draft, Carson Kelly became a member of the Cardinals. On Tuesday, Kelly was traded as part of the package the Cardinals sent to Arizona for Paul Goldschmidt.
My time around the Redbirds aligns for the most part with this crew that’s won back-to-back PCL titles, which included Kelly’s tenure in Memphis. So maybe I’m a little biased when it comes to Kelly, but I feel like we never got to see him at his full potential. In Memphis, Kelly put together a pretty solid .278/.373/.416 line over 755 plate appearances.
His numbers in St. Louis weren’t the best, however. In just 131 plate appearances, Kelly put up a rough .154/.227/.188 line. Which to some, is probably enough to justify Kelly not being the current backup or future solution behind the plate.
What happened on Tuesday would have seemed a bit odd given what we’ve been led to believe about Kelly’s future. Even just doing a quick search of “Carson Kelly heir apparent” on Google, you’ll find more than a couple pages over the last few years of different columns both local and national referring to Kelly as the man that would eventually replace Yadier Molina. Count me as another person on that bandwagon.
Kelly was drafted as a 3rd baseman, but Gary LaRocque, the Cardinals’ director of player development, asked Kelly to switch to catcher back in 2013 after his first season in the minors. Kelly quickly became a highly touted prospect in the system, and that’s where the “heir apparent” talk started. Kelly was an anomaly of sorts because for the most part it was his defense that made him as valuable as he was.
It’s not as if his offense was terrible as he moved up through the system, it just wasn’t THAT great. Average to above-average. Add this to his defensive skills and Kelly started winning accolades. 2015 Minor League Gold Glove award. 2016 Texas League All Star. 2016 Cardinals Minor League Player of the Year. I won’t go too in-depth into his stats over this time as our site did that here earlier this year. That same article though, came as a result of a lot of fans starting to push for the Cardinals to maximize the perceived value you could get while Kelly’s star was still rising. It started becoming more clear that Kelly’s time with the Cardinals was going to be ending sooner than later.
When Yadier Molina signed a 3-year extension in 2017, it was with the belief that it would be the final contract of his career. A plan that Yadi confirmed during Spring Training before the 2018 season. Now, in a different situation, you take Kelly, and have him as Yadi’s backup the next few seasons and then take over after 2020 when Yadi presumably walks away. There’s just one problem.
Andrew Knizner is 23 just like Kelly. Like Kelly, Knizner is a great defensive catcher. The big difference is with the bat. In 2018 at Memphis, Kelly put together a .269/.378/.395 line over 294 at-bats. In 94 games split between Springfield and Memphis, Knizner put together a .313/.368/.430 line. Add in the rough go that Kelly had in St. Louis this season, and Kelly quickly became expendable.
Kelly should get to see plenty of time behind the plate for the Diamondbacks this year, considering that even in his struggles, he wasn’t much behind what Arizona catchers put up last season. Arizona GM Mike Hazen mentioned the team will likely stick with a three-catcher setup in 2019, so he may not get a ton of playing time, but there’s a good possibility it will be more than what he would get behind Yadi here.