The Arizona Diamondbacks acquired Carson Kelly to be their starting catcher. He’ll be busy – but not always on the diamond.
As catcher 1A, Kelly figures to see regular playing time for the first time in his career, even if the Dbacks employ a less consistent catching schedule than he’s used to in St. Louis. Of course, in St. Louis his playing time was “consistent” – just lacking.
When Yadier Molina is catcher 1A, there aren’t many in-game reps to go around for the rest of the catching crew. In Lovullo’s dugout, Kelly will split the time behind the dish with Alex Avila and one of the Doublemint Gum twins, John Ryan Murphy and Caleb Joseph. They’ll expect Kelly to lead this crew both on the field and off.
Even when Kelly isn’t in the starting lineup, he’ll have no shortage of work on his hands. Catchers are like quarterbacks in that there’s more than enough strategy to involve multiple voices in the conversation. The “catchers’ room” will solicit the opinions of all four catchers, and all four catchers will have a role in establishing the culture. But Kelly is the future.
Still, barring an injury to Kelly or Avila, either Murphy or Joseph will start the season in Triple A, and that may be a tough pill to swallow. Hopefully, there’s a collective energy in the catchers’ room to help whoever does go down to withstand the adverse effects of a demotion. After all, all four are likely to see time with the big league club this season.
Give Joseph the edge for now, as he’s actually come out from behind the dish once in a blue moon, playing a few games at first and a few innings at third for the Orioles. Kelly himself just moved behind the dish a few seasons ago, and as Robby Hammock puts it, that’s the most difficult defensive transition there is. Stands to reason Kelly is the likeliest “emergency infielder.”
Mike Hazen likes the three catcher arrangement, but as Buchanan notes in his article, that’s largely been a function of personnel. With a series of veteran backstops best suited as part-time players, or specialists in the mold of defensive ace Jeff Mathis, the Diamondbacks haven’t had a number one catcher that might be worthy of 130-140 starts.
Last season, Lovullo more-or-less perfectly split up the catching duties three ways, Murphy playing in 68 games, Mathis 63, and Avila 61. Murphy and Mathis both stayed remarkably healthy, and Avila only missed a few weeks with a hamstring strain. They’ll be lucky to stay so healthy again – though that is precisely the point of carrying three catchers in the first place.
The Arizona Diamondbacks are going to give Carson Kelly his best opportunity as a major leaguer. Hazen may prefer a three-headed monster as his catching team, but it’s Kelly’s monster to direct.
Still, he’ll need to engage the other parts of being a Diamondbacks catcher in order to succeed. That means investing in his teammates, dutifully holding the clipboard on his days off, and always involving himself in the conversation, even when that means listening to the Dback vets. Yes, those are the backup quarterback’s tasks. In other words, the things he’s already good at.