Last week’s Hot Stove event at McCoy Stadium gave me my first opportunity to meet Boston Red Sox uber-prospect Casey Kelly. My first impression is that the 20-year-old pitcher has the maturity level of a seasoned major league veteran.
“I think it comes from being around minor league baseball my whole life,” Kelly told me. “Having a dad that’s in baseball and a brother (Chris) than pitches in the minor leagues helps me a lot. I’ve been around some very good athletes and you kind of see what works and what doesn’t work. I’ve seen what great players do to make themselves successful.”
Pat Kelly has been a minor league manager for nearly all of his son’s life and has been working in professional baseball for the last 37 years. That’s given Casey the necessary perspective to handle the attention that comes with being one of the highest-rated prospects in the Red Sox organization.
“I try not to pay attention to that at all,” Casey said. “If you don’t perform on the field it doesn’t matter how high you’ve been ranked. If you don’t go out and perform you’re not going to have a job for very long. The hype is really nuts. But my job is just to perform on the field and that’s what I’m concentrating on right now. You try not to focus on the media attention and the hype so I’m just trying to get into the best possible shape to be ready for spring training.”
Kelly is one of 12 prospects who recently took part in the Red Sox unique rookie development which is geared toward helping minor leaguers make a smooth transition to the big leagues.
“They threw a lot at us over the course of two weeks,” Casey said. “The biggest thing that I got out of it is how to act when you get called up. On that first day there’s so much coming at you, but you still have to go out on the field and perform. So do your job and everything else will take care of itself.”
Kelly is a long shot to make the leap to Boston anytime soon. This will be his first season as a full-time pitcher after splitting last year between the mound and shortstop. The Red Sox announced in December that the former first round draft pick had decided to forgo playing a position and concentrate on pitching.
“It feels like a big weight has been lifted off of my shoulders,” Casey told me. “I wanted to do it early in the offseason so that I could get ready to focus on pitching and gear my workouts toward being a pitcher. The earlier we did it the better. They’ve told me that I have a chance to compete for a spot in Portland and that’s one of my goals – to be in Double-A this year. I think that my training up to this point has got me into a position to start there. I think my performance in spring training will have a lot to do with that.”
Wherever Kelly winds up, it will be difficult to top his 2009 numbers as he posted a 2.08 ERA in 17 Single-A starts, with a ridiculous 0.85 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) in 95 IP. To put that into perspective, Arizona’s Dan Haren had the lowest WHIP in major league baseball last year at 1.00.
“My expectations of myself are a lot higher than anybody else’s,” Kelly said. “I had a very successful season last year and I’m ready to build on it. I’m ready to be a better pitcher this year than I was last year. I think that’s the biggest thing – to try to get better and better.”
Sound like a 20-year-old to you?