Overall, on a relatively bad night, Kelly was still the best prospect I've had the opportunity to watch this season. His polish and repertoire were extremely rare for a player in the South Atlantic League. At this point, he does not project as a true ace due to an average fastball, but he could move very quickly and settle in as a number two or three starter. The only thing potentially keeping Kelly from being the first high school pitcher from the 2008 draft class (Boston took Kelly 30th overall) to reach the bigs is his desire to continue playing shortstop.After his debut season on the mound, the Red Sox will likely deem Kelly too valuable to continue their two-way experiment. A soft hitting shortstop with a 90 MPH fastball, and two potential plus secondary pitches is not likely to be a shortstop for long. I was impressed by Kelly's poise and repertoire, but his recent promotion to High-A Salem will be a true test of his mettle.
Physique: Kelly may have been a touch shorter than the 6-foot-3 that he's listed as. He's lean (194 pounds), athletic and has room to add size through the shoulders and lower body. Arguably the best athlete on the field, his movements were very fluid, although he did short arm the ball -- a bit like a quarterback would.
Mound Presence: Confident but reserved. I was impressed that he was unfazed by hits and earned runs allowed and seemed intensely focused on the next pitch. Mature beyond his years, Kelly's polish as a player really showed through.
Fastball: Four-seamer was 86-90 MPH throughout and was frequently 88. A free-and-easy release could allow him to add a couple of more miles should his lower body fill out more. His ball didn't seem to have much movement, but he was able to spot it inside and out at will. Though his fastball is probably his least impressive offering, he showed advanced pitch ability and was able to successfully use the pitch to set up his stronger offerings. He had some success expanding the strike zone as a handful of hitters took an opportunity to complain to the home plate umpire. It was, however, his most hittable pitch as I could tell a number of Gnats hitters were sitting "dead red" and swinging at the first fastball they saw.
Curveball: Rivaled Andrew Brackman as the best breaking pitch I've seen this year. It was solid average throughout the game and flashed plus to the point of being a true wipe out offering. He was comfortable throwing the pitch any count and it was consistently in the 76-78 MPH range. His arm action on the pitch was also excellent, as it was very difficult for the Gnats hitters to read the pitch coming out of his hand. The swings against his curve ball were ugly; a handful of hitters simply refused to offer at it.
Changeup: At 84 MPH, I originally thought the pitch was a slider from my vantage point past the third base dugout due to the pitch's downward movement. In order to get a closer look, I spent an inning behind home plate trying to figure out exactly what the pitch was. An usher next to me thought it was a split and I was able to rule out a slider because the pitch not only had significant drop, but wicked fade as well. Changeups with that kind of movement are very hard to come by at this level. My only reservation would be the 4-6 mile difference from his best fastball as most would consider a best case scenario to be an 8-10 MPH difference.
I have been high on Kelly since he spurned an offer to play quarterback for the Tennessee Volunteers and signed with the Red Sox for three million dollars, an over-slot bonus for a first round pick in the 2008 draft. After signing, he focused on shortstop posting a 4.3% walk rate and 30.0% strikeout rate (141 PA in rookie and short-season) which, in turn, took some of the luster off of Kelly's star.
In 2009, however, Kelly has turned the page and his focus has been on the mound. In nine Low-A starts, his 4.9% walk rate, 21.3% strikeout rate and 55% ground-ball rate were stellar. Now being challenged by facing High-A hitters, Kelly's success has made him one of the better stories in all of minor league baseball this season.
Read more from Mike Newman at scoutingthesally.com.