ST. LOUIS -- While Yadier Molina begins a three-year countdown to retirement this year, Carson Kelly sits patiently behind him, still waiting for his turn.
Opportunity is about the only thing slowing Kelly these days, as he once again ranks among the top catching prospects in baseball. A year after topping MLB Pipeline's positional list, Kelly enters 2018 second, behind only Indians catcher Francisco Mejia.
:: Top 10 Prospects by Position ::
Kiebert Ruiz (Dodgers), Sean Murphy (A's), Jake Rogers (Tigers), Jorge Alfaro (Phillies), Chance Sisco (Orioles), Danny Jansen (Blue Jays), Zack Collins (White Sox) and Victor Caratini (Cubs) round out the top 10.
Kelly, who made his Major League debut in 2016, joined the Cardinals for the final two months off the '17 season. He served as Molina's backup and logged 14 starts, 162 innings and 75 plate appearances. The limited exposure hindered Kelly's ability to find much offensive traction, and he finished the year with a .174/.240/.217 slash line. He's still looking for his first big league home run.
"It's a learning experience," Kelly said. "It was different for me [playing part time], but I think what I experienced [last] year is really going to help me coming into next year. I made a lot of adjustments this offseason with my workouts and my approach at the plate and catching and everything. A little bit more power. More power and more consistency. With maybe not getting at-bats every single day, it's going to be an adjustment. Being very consistent and simple with my approach and my swing is going to help me out in the long run."
One of two catchers currently on the Cardinals' 40-man roster, Kelly is projected to open the season with St. Louis. Playing time will again be sporadic, as the Cardinals do not anticipate reducing Molina's workload significantly this year. Molina has started at least 128 games behind the plate in eight of the past nine seasons.
However, at some point over the next three years, the Cardinals will begin to focus more on the future. That will mean more on-field exposure for the 23-year-old Kelly. That's why the Cardinals have been intent on holding on to the young catcher despite widespread trade interest.
For now, Kelly said he hopes to soak up whatever he can while working behind arguably the best catcher of this generation, and he's adjusted his preparation to match his current role.
"It's being ready when the opportunity presents itself," Kelly said. "Who knows what is going to happen in the future? I think this offseason, simplifying a lot of my game and my workouts and putting myself in the city here has opened up a lot of doors for me. I think I'm going to be in a great spot come Spring Training."