Kelly is slashing .259/.375/.630 over his first 32 plate appearances with Triple-A Memphis, including three home runs.
Kelly has bounced back from a rough spring with an impressive power stroke against Triple-A pitching. His trio of round trippers over a modest sample size are somewhat of an outlier, considering the 22-year-old backstop has never hit more than nine homers in any minor-league stop. Kelly failed to go deep over 126 plate appearances at Memphis last season and likewise came up empty in 16 spring games during March. It remains to be seen if he'll be able to maintain his impressive pace as the season unfolds, but the early returns in his second go-around against Triple-A arms have been encouraging.
Kelly's path to the majors is expected to be somewhat modified with the signing of Yadier Molina to a three-year extension Sunday, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. "I think that's fair -- that he won't have the robust role of an everyday catcher, especially in those first couple of years," general manager John Mozeliak said. "That doesn't mean he can't continue to develop. I do feel like for Carson this is a great opportunity to have one of the greatest catchers ever to play now be able to help mentor. We're not forced with having to push him faster than we have to."
Kelly struggled with a .176 average over 40 plate appearances this spring, but he remains a highly regarded prospect who's considered the heir apparent to Molina. The 22-year-old will remain the everyday starter at Triple-A Memphis in the coming season, and Molina's signing through 2020 likely equates to a gradual integration of Kelly at the big-league level as opposed to an immediate starting role. Veteran Eric Fryer was also acquired this past winter to back up Molina, thereby allowing Kelly to continue gaining seasoning at the Triple-A level instead of languishing on the bench with the Cardinals. Another solid year at Memphis for Kelly could certainly set the table for a possible late season call-up and the primary reserve catcher role in 2018.
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.
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 stopgap, 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 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.
|5/28/2017 vs Colorado|
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|Minor League Batting Stats|
|2012||R-Johnson City Cardina||56||213||24||48||10||0||9||25||10||33||0||0||.263||.399||.225|
|2013||ASX-State College Spikes||70||271||35||75||16||1||4||32||20||31||1||0||.340||.387||.277|
|2015||AFA-Palm Beach Cardinals||108||389||30||85||18||1||8||51||22||64||0||0||.263||.332||.219|
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