SAN DIEGO, CA - AUGUST 27: Casey Kelly #49 of the San Diego Padres pitches during the third inning of a baseball game against the Atlanta Braves at Petco Park on August 27, 2012 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
The title of this article is a bit of a misnomer, as Casey Kelly has already debuted. He took center stage on Monday night, making his first career start in San Diego. He spun six scoreless innings, striking out four, walking two and allowing only three hits. On the whole it was an extremely impressive debut and it caps off a rollercoaster season for Kelly. While he doesn't completely fit the concept of this column, as a late call up, I wanted to give readers a full scouting report on Kelly so they can decide on him going into next season.
Kelly has been a high profile prospect from the moment he was drafted (30th overall) by the Red Sox in 2008. He was a two-way player in high school and an impressive quarterback recruit as well. He was coveted by many teams as a pitcher, but fell due to high bonus demands and a desire to hit. The Red Sox allowed him to split his first two seasons between the mound and the field, but when his bat failed him (.219 average), he converted to the mound full time. Kelly has always ranked highly on prospects lists because he showed polish and had extreme athleticism on his side, though the results rarely matched up with his scouting reports.
More on Kelly after the jump...
That all changed in 2012 where he lit up the Padres Spring Training complex and it carried into his first couple starts of the season. Something had clicked for Kelly, and it was a thing of beauty. He opened his season with 12 scoreless innings, with 14 strikeouts against only two walks, spread over two outings. This was a marked change from his past performances where he would show top shelf stuff with good but not great results. He had never averaged a K/9 IP higher than 8 before, though he countered that with supreme control, never averaging more than 3.5 BB/9. Regardless, this was a different Casey Kelly we were seeing in 2012. Unfortunately it was all to brief a look, as he suffered a forearm injury that kept him out for much of the year. His stuff didn't leave him during his time on the shelf as he's returned to hurl another 25.2 innings, striking out 25 and walking three. With only 43.2 innings pitched to go on this year, there's not much to tell statistically, except that the numbers are starting to match up with what the scouting reports have said for years.
Kelly attacks hitters with a three pitch mix, showing two easy plus pitches. His fastball is heavy, with good movement and he controls it extremely well. It sits in the low 90s, but can touch the mid 90s when he reaches back for a bit more. There are times he will overthrow the pitch causing it to lose some movement and making it a bit more hittable. His curve is also a plus pitch featuring a sharp, late break. He has developed a low 80s change up to the point that it too has movement and he can throw all three for strikes. Highly athletic, Kelly repeats his delivery with ease, allowing him to control all his pitches and pound the strikezone. He's received criticism for being around the strikezone too much, allowing hitters to tee off on him, despite three above-average pitches and plus control. The advancements he made this spring/season have seen additional movement on his fastball, harder break on his curve and more movement on his change in past years, and can explain the jump in strikeouts. Even with the jump in stuff, he's unlikely to be a true ace, profiling more as a number two pitcher if it continues to click. That said, as a pitcher in PETCO, he could certainly be a very high end number two starter in fantasy terms.
I'm extremely high on Kelly, despite slotting him 24th in my mid-season starting pitchers ranking. That was a bit of a hedge, as his entire career said one thing, while Spring Training and two Triple-A starts in 2012 said another. I did say I was anxious to see what he could do upon return, giving myself some breathing room. I was pleased enough with his performance once he came back that I made him a key part of a big trade in my 20-team dynasty league (I moved Colby Rasmus, Cory Luebke, Nick Castellanos and Travis D'Arnaud for Mat Latos, Drew Storen, Casey Kelly and Billy Hamilton). I think Kelly could end up as a high end number two fantasy starter who will help you in strikeouts (but not dominate) and could be a huge factor in WHIP and any leagues that use K/BB. Wins are always a crapshoot, and certainly the Padres aren't going to be dominant in the extremely near future but he's a name to snag late this year as a cheap keeper or put on a sleeper list for next season.
Kevin Goldstein/Baseball Prospectus
Jason Parks/Baseball Prospectus
This column was also brought to you by Bret Sayre's undying love for Casey Kelly. You can follow him here, and me here.