The Arizona Diamondbacks are recalibrating after the trade of Paul Goldschmidt returned Carson Kelly, Luke Weaver, Andy Young and a pick.
Carson Kelly is the new starting catcher of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Alex Avila will still get plenty of time behind the dish, but he’s on a one-year, $4.5MM deal, and if you’ve seen him run at any point in the last three years, you know Avila’s prime has passed. The future behind the dish is Carson Kelly.
Kelly spent three seasons as mentee to all-world defensive catchers Yadier Molina and Mike Matheny, and prospect scouts have consistently raved about his promise as a game caller, pitch framer and blocker.
On the flip side, no evidence exists in the world that says Kelly can hit major league pitching. With only 2, 14, and 10 starts, respectively, in each of the last three seasons in the bigs, that’s hardly a surprise. This season is a big test for Kelly, no doubt – but it’s also his first test.
He gets that test in Arizona after three years of holding the clipboard, aka, the Aaron Rodgers treatment. Frankly, that might be the perfect way to raise a catcher.
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In Triple A, Kelly hit – just not for power – producing a .269/.378/.395 line with good contact skills (13.8 BB%, 13.8 K%) this season. The year before he posted similar numbers: .283/.375/.459 with 10 home runs and the same ability putting bat to ball (11.8 BB%, 14.3 K%). That’s acceptable production for a glove-first signal-caller.
With Jeff Mathis headed to the Rangers, the Diamondbacks must believe that Kelly is ready to take on that leadership role with the pitching staff. He’s not the most decorated of the players in Arizona, but his impact on future Diamondbacks teams may outpace any other player currently on the roster.
Hope remains that Kelly can hit for a high enough average to net positive on offense, but more likely than not, Kelly will prove to be an excellent game caller, or he’s going to find himself riding the pine.
Look at the catching situations around the league. There aren’t many with long-term solutions in place. Maybe the Cubs with Willson Contreras, or whichever team eventually trades for J.T. Realmuto? The Yanks are fine with Gary Sanchez, whose final few months of 2017 were productive enough to warrant one and maybe two more underperforming seasons before the Yankees will seriously consider moving on. There are more stable situations than just those, but it’s not the majority.
Getting a catcher in the current MLB is seriously difficult. The Diamondbacks are smart to take advantage of a bizarre surplus that gathered behind the incomparable Yadier Molina in St. Louis. He’s not a transformative player, but if Kelly can be productive at a barren position, his defense will turn him into a core player in Arizona.
Acquisition Grade: A-