The Mighty Casey will strike out

December 12, 2009

Editor's Note: We had a chance to see Casey Kelly as a position player multiple times at the Arizona Fall League. We've decided to publish a report on Kelly the hitter as a tribute to his batting efforts.  

When the Red Sox selected Casey Kelly with the 30th pick in the 2008 draft, it was unclear whether he'd sign with Boston or become a two-sport athlete at the University of Tennessee. The Red Sox were able to ink Kelly to a three million dollar signing bonus. During his first full season, the 6-foot-3, 194-pounder was one of pro baseball's only two-way prospects.

At the plate, Kelly struggles with pitch recognition. And while he has good bat speed, Kelly struck out an alarming 25.8% of the time in Low-A (151 PA). He also didn't hit for much power (.089 isoP), though he shows raw power in batting practice.

His high ground ball rates limited his power as well. Kelly was 1.8 standard deviations above the South Atlantic League average in ground ball percentage (63.6%). While this rate is from a small sample, note that he continued to hit a lot of ground balls in the Arizona Fall League (56.5% in 46 PA).

Kelly has a busy setup, circling his bat above his shoulder and utilizing a double toe tap before swinging. Though he is patient, he hardly controls at-bats. He has a tendency to chase outside pitches and guesses once he falls behind in counts. It doesn't take a stopwatch to recognize that Kelly's now a well-below-average runner. He's slowed down a lot since he was drafted.

Defensively, Kelly has great hands and excellent athleticism. But although he moves well for someone his size, he doesn't have near enough range to play shortstop. He also tends to lose focus in the field. Kelly's most valuable defensive asset is his strong and accurate right arm. 

When the Red Sox signed Kelly, he was a top high school football recruit. He was committed to play football for the University of Tennessee, where he had a chance to become the team's quarterback. Along with the large bonus, the Red Sox agreed to allow him to both pitch and hit in the minor leagues. Kelly said the chance to hit and pitch helped him chose baseball.

"It means a lot," Kelly told shortly after he signed. "They think I can play either position and succeed at either one. For them to let me go out and play shortstop and then pitch also, it just shows me a lot about the organization and the class that they have and I'm excited to be a Red Sox." 

Kelly is clearly passionate about hitting. And that's understandable -- if you love a game, why play a few times a week if you can play every day? But his bat lags well behind his ability on the mound.

As of November 2009, Kelly seemed far from the realization that his future in baseball would be as a pitcher. When we interviewed Kelly at the Arizona Fall League, he refused to answer any questions related to his pitching.

"I've been all offense, the defense will take care of itself," Kelly said. "I didn't get many at-bats this year so I'm trying to get some swings in and take time in BP to work on my swing."

Kelly said that his transition from pitching at one level to hitting at another was not too difficult.

"It really wasn't that big of a difference because it was two different positions. It was kinda like having Spring Training and coming out and playing the first month of the season. I had a good time and hopefully we'll see what goes on next year."

Although Kelly struggled offensively in the AFL, his teammates are aware of the ability he possesses.

"The kid is just talented," said Red Sox outfielder Ryan Kalish. "He could do whatever he wants. I really hope wherever he chooses is gonna pan out. He's gonna be fine."


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