Editor’s Note: A.E. Schafer aka the red baron has once again compiled a rather impressive list of Cardinals prospects doing a write-up on 40 individual prospects. As a convenience to our readers, he releases the list in a couple big chunks so everyone can read about all of the prospects at once. While that is a convenience to all of us who eagerly await the arrival of prospect lists, it might not be as convenient if you are looking for a player’s particular scouting report. So, as a further convenience, we are putting the individual scouting reports in separate posts to make individual players easier to find. You can find the full lists on our 2018 prospect page here. —CE
#3: Carson Kelly, C
6’2”, 220 lbs; Bats/Throws: Right/Right
DOB: 14 July 1994; Drafted Rd 2 2012
Level(s) in 2017: Memphis (Triple A), St. Louis
Notable Numbers: .283/.375/.459, 120 wRC+, 11.8% BB, 14.3% K (Mem)
So, what’s so great about this guy?
Carson Kelly, former third base prospect and overslot high school draft pick signing, has become one of the best, if not the best, defensive catching prospect in the minor leagues. The 2017 season represented a long-awaited offensive breakthrough for Kelly, but even so, it’s the glove that makes him such a strong prospect.
And that’s why Kelly is my highest-rated positional prospect in the Cards’ system this year: positional scarcity and value. There are other position players in the system I personally like more than Carson Kelly, but the combination of a potentially average-ish bat with plus defense at the single most difficult to fill position in the game is just too valuable not to rank him here, I believe.
Offensively, Kelly has always been able to make contact, keeping his strikeout rate below 15% at the majority of stops in his minor league career, but the quality of contact has been an issue. He showed significant power potential in high school before being drafted, and even in his professional debut season (9 homers, .174 ISO in 225 plate appearances), but since that time it’s been a struggle to keep his isolated slugging percentage even over .110. He showed some real maturation on that front in 2017, and suddenly what has always looked like a strong frame finally began to deliver some strong results. I don’t expect him to turn into a slugger, but a full-time line for Kelly could produce fifteen homers and a ~ 100-105 wRC+, I would think. Maybe that’s on the high end, slightly.
Defensively, there really aren’t any questions about Kelly. He moves beautifully behind the plate, his form on blocking balls is excellent, he has a big time throwing arm, and the finer points of his receiving generally get very good marks as well. Pitchers speak glowlingly about throwing to him, which I really have no idea how to parse, but it’s certainly better than the alternative. Long story short, Carson Kelly checks the box behind the plate the Cardinals seem to most value having checked, and that’s why, in spite of my personal preference for Andrew Knizner, I expect Kelly to get every shot possible to take the reins as the catcher of the future for the organisation, starting this season with a full-time backup role. Let’s just hope the bat doesn’t stagnate too much sitting on the bench.
If he’s good, it will look like: Basically, Kelly’s upside looks a lot like the man he’s being groomed to replace, Yadier Molina. Now, we’ll have to wait, probably years, before we know if he brings the same kind of intangible qualities to the job that Yadi has over the past decade plus, the leadership and intelligence and a calming influence on developing arms, but the tangible stuff, the stuff we can see, cuts a very Yadiesque profile. Probably minus the still-kind-of-shocking mid-career MVP run.