WhAfter reading Ryan Massey’s excellent piece on what a possible Yadier Molina extension could look like. I began to think of another talented Cardinals catcher, and what impact the extension would have on him. I am, of course, talking about the number one catching prospect in baseball according to MLB.com, Carson Kelly.
Kelly was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2012 Amateur Draft out of an Oregon high school. Originally drafted as a third baseman, he switched to catching full-time for the 2014 season. Kelly quickly established himself as one of, if not the best defensive catching prospects in the game by winning the 2015 Rawlings minor league Gold Glove Award. 2016 saw further development to his overall game as he put together a breakout offensive season slashing (.289/.343/.395) between AA and AAA. Eventually reaching the Majors for a cup of coffee in September.
By most accounts, Kelly will head to AAA Memphis to start the 2017 season where he will have the opportunity to play every day and continue to develop. Supposing he has another standout season and is ready for an everyday job in 2018, the Cardinals could run into quite a problem. If they sign Molina to a contract extension, he will likely be the Cardinals catcher for another four years or more as Ryan explained in his piece. What do the Cardinals do with Carson Kelly?
The option to have him serve as Molina’s backup will likely be available, but sitting the majority of games would hurt his development. The team could again have him report to AAA Memphis for regular playing time, but this would also hinder his development as he will continue to face similar competition rather than Major League level talent. Trading Kelly, or not re-signing Molina are both options as well, though I find the latter hard to believe. Molina is a Cardinal legend who is still continuing to produce and should retire with the birds on the bat. To find an answer for how the Cardinals might handle this situation, I began researching another former Cardinals top catching prospect in Bryan Anderson.
Through my research I was surprised to find out just how many similarities there are between Anderson and Kelly. Both of the players were drafted out of high school; became top 100 overall prospects; Futures Game selections; and mid-season Texas League all-stars. Anderson was not the defensive catcher that Kelly is, but was historically more productive with the bat. The main similarity I drew between the two however, is that both of their paths to the Majors are blocked by Molina. The Cardinals handling of Anderson seems somewhat puzzling, as they never really did anything with him. He was never traded, never used as Molina’s backup, and never fully switched positions to allow him a spot in St. Louis. He played parts of five seasons in Memphis, only briefly reaching the Majors and then eventually left as a minor league free agent. Maybe the Cardinals knew something that I don’t, as Anderson still continues to bounce around the minors but has never taken hold of a Major League job.
This brings us full circle back to Kelly and what his future holds. I fully believe Molina and the Cardinals will come to terms on a contract extension that will keep him in St. Louis the remainder of his career. I also do not believe Molina will switch positions or will move to a bench role. He is still productive as evidenced by his 2016 season (.307/.360/.427) and leading Team Puerto Rico to the World Baseball Classic Final this spring. Molina has played first base some in the past, but his offensive profile does not fit that of a first baseman. The position is also now occupied by Matt Carpenter who is signed to his own long-term contract. I find it hard to see Kelly switching positions, as he is a superb defensive catcher and has already changed positions from a fielder to a catcher. I hope for his and the Cardinals sake, he does not spend five season shuttling back and forth I-55 between Memphis and St. Louis like Anderson. His talent level would be seem wasted by serving as Molina’s backup only and playing sparingly. This would lastly leave us to a possible trade. Long-term solutions at catcher are always in demand, and Kelly could be just the piece the Cardinals need to land a difference maker come trade deadline time.
Thanks for reading!