Back on July 21st the St. Louis Cardinals promoted top catching prospect Carson Kelly to the major league roster. He’s played only sparingly, getting 41 at-bats over 23 games and hitting .171/.261/.220, being deployed mainly as the reserve catcher behind Yadier Molina.
Since Kelly is one of the best catching prospects in all of baseball, seeing him reduced to reserve service has caused some confusion and consternation among Cardinals fans, given that Molina is on contract through 2020 and Kelly is supposed to be more than just a backup.
Kelly ranked third on the pre-season St. Louis Cardinals Top 20 prospects list for 2017 with this commentary:
3) Carson Kelly, C, Grade B/B+: Age 22, second round pick in 2012; hit .289/.343/.395 with six homers, 25 walks, 63 strikeouts in 329 at-bats between Double-A and Triple-A; superior defensive catcher threw out 31% of runners but with excellent passed ball and error rates plus good comments on backstop intangibles; makes contact but line drive swing cuts off natural power in 6-2, 220 frame; may be a late-bloomer with the bat. Glove will keep him in the majors for years and the hitting could still end up being very good. Industry enthusiasm for his hitting has increased over the winter and in this case I think the industry is correct. ETA 2017.
Opening this year back with Triple-A Memphis Kelly hit .283/.375/.459 with 10 homers, 33 walks and 40 strikeouts in 244 at-bats, showing greatly improved power without loss of strike zone judgment or contact ability. He continued to play very well defensively, as expected, and enthusiasm for Kelly among Pacific Coast League observers was very high right before the Cardinals promoted him to the majors.
So what happens now?
As I see it, there are five potential paths here.
1) Trade him. A major league-ready catcher with a strong glove and a decent chance to hit should bring a nice return.
2) Use Kelly as a reserve the next few years, then have him take over as the regular when Molina’s contract runs out. A viable option, if something of a waste in the short run given Kelly’s potential.
3) Trade Molina and give the job to Kelly. Seems unlikely in the short run, but perhaps in two more years?
4) Move one of them to another position. This seems unlikely.
5) Someone gets hurt. This is always a possibility.
I imagine Kelly will show up in lots of trade rumors this winter.
What do you expect to happen, and what would YOU do with Kelly if you were the Cardinals?