After performing as an above league-average hitter at Double-A (115 wRC+) and essentially a league-average hitter at Triple-A (98 wRC+), Carson Kelly earned his first trip to the majors when rosters expanded in September. During his time with the big club, he went 2-for-14 across 10 games. He was also extremely impressive in the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .286/.387/.455 with three home runs and a 4:13 K:BB in 94 plate appearances. While it was exciting to see Kelly climb his way through the ranks of the Cardinals organization, Yadier Molina remains the unquestioned starting catcher in St. Louis. Kelly will compete with veteran Eric Fryer for the backup catcher spot in camp and may return to Memphis in order to continue to see the workload of a No. 1 catcher. If Molina were to get hurt, however, Kelly would figure to see the bulk of the action behind the dish and would become relevant in all two-catcher formats.
Kelly was optioned to Triple-A Memphis on Monday, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. Kelly has made a great case in his young minor league career to become Yadier Molina's successor in St. Louis. He hit .292/.352/.381 for Memphis over 32 games last season, a particularly impressive mark considering he was 5.4 years younger than the average Triple-A player. Eric Fryer will back up Molina for now, but Kelly has a chance to play his way onto the roster in the second half of 2017.
Kelly, the Cardinals' top catching prospect, is a non-roster invitee to spring training but likely to return to Triple-A Memphis to start the season, Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com reports. The 22-year-old will join veteran incumbent Yadier Molina and fellow non-roster invitee Eric Fryer at the position in spring training, but the team has already expressed a desire to have him start his 2017 campaign at the minor league level so he can continue to benefit from regular playing time. Kelly finished the 2016 season at Triple-A Memphis, where he slashed .292/.352/.381 with 10 doubles and 14 RBI over 113 at-bats. The 34-year-old Molina is signed through the 2018 season and showed no sign of slowing down in the 2016 campaign, but with Fryer viewed as just a veteran stop-gap, Kelly figures to be a presence on the major league club at some point in the coming season. In the interim, the Cardinals will give him some valuable reps during the exhibition slate, followed by additional seasoning against the top level of minor league competition.
Kelly's contract was purchased from Triple-A Memphis on Sunday. Kelly earned a late-July promotion to Memphis, where he posted a .733 OPS for the Redbirds. He'll be one of three backup catchers currently on the active roster competing for reps behind starter Yadier Molina.
Kelly, 22, is hitting .303/.351/.455 in nine games since being promoted to Triple-A Memphis. It's rare that a player who projects to stick behind the dish reaches Triple-A as a 22-year-old, and Kelly is a young 22, as his birthday is July 14. The big concern with Kelly was always whether or not he'd hit enough to be useful in fantasy, and the bat has really taken a big step forward this year. He posted a .740 OPS with six homers in the Texas League prior to his promotion. It will likely be a batting average centered fantasy profile, but that will still play, given the lack of useful options at the position. Unfortunately, in this organization, he is unlikely to take over the everyday duties anytime soon, as Yadier Molina is signed through 2017 with a team option for 2018.
Kelly is hitting .400 over his last 10 games at Double-A, including two home runs. The converted catcher is hitting .294 on the season for Springfield. Kelly was drafted in by the Cardinals as third baseman in 2012. He made the transition to catcher prior to the 2014 season, making this his third full season. Kelly struggled most of 2014 and 2015, but has found his stride this season. He looks more comfortable behind the plate, which is allowing him to focus more on his offense this season. The 21-year-old still has a long way to go if he wants to become a big-league catcher, but his play this season at Double-A is a sign of hope.