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Adjusting to new role a challenge for Kelly

Cards No. 2 prospect expected to back up Molina at catcher
MLB.com @LangoschMLB

ST. LOUIS -- Although he's ranked by MLB Pipeline as baseball's No. 2 catching prospect, Carson Kelly once again enters another year unsure of his fit and potential playing time.

With Yadier Molina's three-year contract extension kicking in this season, Kelly, 23, projects to back up the veteran catcher just as he did during the second half of the 2017 season. Less certain, however, is how much on-field exposure that will provide.

ST. LOUIS -- Although he's ranked by MLB Pipeline as baseball's No. 2 catching prospect, Carson Kelly once again enters another year unsure of his fit and potential playing time.

With Yadier Molina's three-year contract extension kicking in this season, Kelly, 23, projects to back up the veteran catcher just as he did during the second half of the 2017 season. Less certain, however, is how much on-field exposure that will provide.

Since '09, Molina has started an average of 130 games behind the plate each season. No catcher in baseball has carried a heavier load. If Molina were to continue at that pace -- and the Cardinals have not indicated an imminent shift -- then Kelly's opportunities will continue to be limited.

"It's just another challenge for me, and it's a way for me to grow," Kelly said. "You might not always be a starter. I try to take those opportunities to grow in different ways and help the team when called upon."

After starting 68 games for Triple-A Memphis last season, Kelly finished the season in St. Louis, where he caught 162 innings and accrued 69 at-bats. The Cardinals were 5-9 in his 14 starts, six of which came during the final week of the season when Molina was in concussion protocol.

It was the mental side of the game, Kelly said, that challenged him the most while he adjusted to sporadic playing time in 2017. Staying sharp at the plate has been trying as well. Kelly, who hit .286/.368/.434 in 100 Triple-A games, has a big league slash line of .171/.236/.220.

Video: STL@CHC: Kelly talks about his big hit in his debut

"Last year, my goal was to really develop a routine and adjust to what my role is and adjust to what the season is like up in the big leagues," Kelly added. "It's completely different from being in Triple-A to here. Just getting acclimated with the speed of the game was a transition."

Kelly has made another transition this offseason by deciding to stick in St. Louis for the winter. The location not only keeps the Oregon native closer to his girlfriend, who lives in Iowa, but it has also allowed him to work out with several familiar faces. He's spent time with Luke Voit, Kolten Wong and even Matt Adams, who returned to the area this offseason even though he's no longer with the Cardinals organization.

Kelly's proximity to Busch Stadium has also afforded him the opportunity for more direct exposure to the Cardinals' strength and conditioning staff.

"It's been great just to get some roots here in St. Louis," Kelly said. "I'm working toward consistency in everything with catching and hitting and finding a way to always be ready when called upon. That's always going to be changing, and I think being here in St. Louis has really helped me in that goal."

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

 

St. Louis Cardinals, Carson Kelly