Casey Kelly’s Chances Are Twice as Nice

by abournenesn

Jul 13, 2009

Last season, Casey Kelly didn’t toe the rubber at
all in 27 games for the Lowell Spinners. Between Greenville and Salem
this year — despite taking batting practice twice a week — coaches
haven’t given him a shot at the plate.

However, despite the indecisiveness, the 19-year-old phenom is
riding the right path to finding a cozy spot in Fenway’s clubhouse soon
down the line, no matter what position he plays.

The 30th overall pick in 2008 was plucked by the Sox, who were
hoping to turn the Sarasota High School two-way stud into a No. 1 or
No. 2 starter someday. Kelly was flattered by the offer, but wasn’t
ready to give up on another one of his loves, shortstop, for the second
time in one year. The high school quarterback turned down a full ride
to throw touchdowns at the University of Tennessee last year, putting
all his chips in the professional baseball circuit instead.

Rookie year was shaky for Kelly, who hit just .173 with one homer,
nine RBIs and 10 runs in 98 at-bats as Lowell’s shortstop. As part of
Boston’s master plan — not due to the low offensive numbers — Kelly put
to rest his bat for the first half of the 2009 season, to concentrate
primarily on pitching. The franchise wanted to see what the 6-foot-3,
194-pound righty had to offer against professional hitters, with a cap
of 95 innings. Once Kelly reached this pitching summit, he would return
to the infield, no matter how well he fared on the mound, for the
entire second half of the season.

Kelly’s success on the mound this season far surpasses his offensive
numbers and scouts’ expectations. He went 6-1 with a 1.12 ERA in nine
starts for Greenville, where he struck out 39 batters in 48 1/3 innings
before getting shipped over to Salem of the Carolina League. There, he
went just 1-4 with a 3.09 ERA, but had a strikeout-to-walk ratio of
5-to-1. In just his second start in Salem, he had a perfect game
through six innings, retiring 18 batters on just 60 pitches.

“I’ve had a lot of success pitching,” Kelly told
before the All-Star Futures Game, where he pitched a scoreless sixth
inning. “It’s kind of crazy. I want to play shortstop, but should I?”

Good question. Everyone in the organization seems to agree that Kelly’s future is on the bump.

“Nineteen-year-olds just don’t do this,” Red Sox farm director Mike Hazen said. “He’s certainly surpassed our expectations. Our scouting staff had him nailed as a pitcher. They were raving about him.”

But if he hits .350 with 10 homers and 40 RBIs in the second half of
this season, the Sox have a problem on their hands; a really, really,
really good problem.

“There’s so much value in both positions,” Hazen added. “A [No.] 1
or 2 starter or an everyday shortstop – how can you decide? I don’t
think anyone presupposes having answers here. When we sat down to map
it out, we said we’d take it year to year, and this offseason I think
we’re going to have a few meetings.”

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