We’ve heard it time and time again from the Red Sox front office over the past few weeks. There is a bumper crop of prospects coming up through the team’s minor league pipeline, but the next wave of talent that will wow Red Sox Nation is probably two seasons away.
One of the most notable names in that next wave of prospects is Casey Kelly. There is no question about his ability on the field.
There is, however, a big question that he, and the team, will have to answer sometime soon. Where, exactly, will he play if he someday makes it to the big club?
Kelly, you see, is an extremely gifted athlete. In high school, he was rated the second-best shortstop in the country by Baseball America, about the same time he was rated the 31st-best quarterback in the country by ESPN.
“I saw him as a pitcher and loved him,” said a scout recently. “Then I saw him as a shortstop and loved him. I probably would’ve loved him playing football at Tennessee, too. He’s that kind of athlete.”
It took a $3 million bonus to keep Kelly out of the University of Tennessee. Kelly asked to play shortstop, and the Red Sox granted his wish. But they also asked him to pitch, so he has done both. His work on the mound has impressed everyone who has watched him — to the point that he was named the team’s minor league pitcher of the year this past season.
People in the organization say he already has three major league-caliber pitches. He’s got a plus fastball, a plus curveball and a plus changeup. It all adds up to one big plus for his future as a big league pitcher. He would probably start next season pitching against Double-A competition in Portland, and it’s not out of the question he could wind up with his first big league appearance by the end of the year.
So, what’s the problem? The problem is that Kelly still sees himself as a shortstop.
“I did miss being on the field and being a part of every game and hitting BP and hitting in the game,” Kelly recently told the Boston Herald. “When I changed over to shortstop, I didn’t really think about pitching or anything like that.”
Doesn’t sound like he’s itching to toe the rubber, does it?
The Red Sox say a decision will be made concerning his future before the start of 2010 spring training. They will not continue to develop him as both a pitcher and fielder, but team officials are remaining tight-lipped as to which way they are leaning. It seems clear, however, that his path to major league service would be much quicker as a pitcher. It could take Kelly two or three times longer to make it to Boston as a middle infielder. With Jose Iglesias garnering a lot of attention, the Red Sox have their long-term answer at shortstop working his way through the minors.
Casey Kelly is a special athlete. He would probably succeed at whatever he chose to do. Although we’ve talked a lot about Boston’s needs at shortstop, there is always a need for pitching. If there’s a chance — even a small chance — that he could beat the next wave of young players to the Show by converting to a full-time pitcher, then that’s where he should be playing. It makes the most sense for the team and the individual.