Throughout the 2017 season, there has been great debate about catcher Carson Kelly and his future with the St. Louis Cardinals. Kelly has dazzled minor league fans throughout the past few seasons with his work ethic and determination. This hard work landed Kelly his major league debut in 2016 and multiple starts behind the plate for the Cardinals. However, after signing a three-year extension with Yadier Molina, St. Louis currently does not have a spot on the roster for Kelly, and may not for the next several years.
Kelly's path to the majors
A second round draft pick in 2012 and #8 overall prospect in 2016, Carson Kelly has posted staggering numbers in his minor league career. The Memphis Redbirds' catcher has impressed fans in both his offensive and defensive performance. His defensive stats speak for themselves with upwards of 3,000 innings played behind the plate. He has played 343 games with only 19 errors in his minor league career. Kelly has also shown his offensive skill with a minor league career batting average of .283 and a .458 slugging percentage.
In the 2017 season, Kelly has once again moved between Memphis and their MLB affiliate the St. Louis Cardinals, even attending the Cardinals’ Spring Training in Jupiter, Florida but being sent down right after. Kelly has appeared in 20 MLB regular season games and 68 AAA games. Kelly’s performance on the field presents the Cardinals with a dilemma. The Redbirds’ catcher is 23 years old, with nearly 5 seasons spent in the minor leagues, and itching to get his shot in the MLB.
A valuable mentor?
Should Kelly play under Molina, an eight-time Gold Glove winner, two-time World Series champion and arguably the face of the franchise? Playing behind Molina would give Kelly the opportunity to learn first-hand from arguably one of the best catchers in the history of the MLB. The learning opportunities under Molina are endless. Molina is signed through 2020 and has served as the Cardinal’s starting catcher since 2005. Molina is a fan favorite in the city of St. Louis, but he is also 35 years old. It is extremely likely that he will retire after his contract expires.
Molina has already slugged 17 home runs with 72 RBI this year. With Molina showing no signs of slowing down, that doesn’t leave much playing time for Kelly. Molina has been outspoken about his desire to continue playing at his normal pace and is known for rarely being scratched from the lineup. Previously in the season, Molina was quick to correct manager Mike Matheny when Matheny implied that Molina was not in the lineup because he needed a break. Molina stated on Instagram, “I train to play 174 games because that’s what it takes to be a Champion. I’m not tired and the day I feel tired I’ll express it myself. #misinforming.”
Is Kelly a Cardinal?
An alternative would be to move Kelly back to the minors. He would get continuous playing time, and continue to improve and keep his game sharp. This could mean that Kelly would spend another three years in Triple-A, making him 26 when he finally gets the opportunity to be a regular starter in the MLB and a total of 8 seasons spent in the minor league. This would not be fair, as Kelly has proven himself as an MLB contender. This would also rob him of three years of his career that he could have spent in the major leagues with a different organization.
That only leaves one option: trade Kelly. As much as St. Louis would hate to do it, Kelly should be traded for a prospect that is more useful for the current lineup. This would be mutually beneficial for all parties involved. Kelly would gain the opportunity to start his MLB career as a continuous man on the roster, giving him time to grow his skills and become a more mature player. This decision would also give the Cardinals the chance at another top prospect. The Cardinals don’t need a catcher right now or for the next few years. But, let’s face it, the Cardinals could use some infielders. This could be a great trade.