Fantasy Baseball Prospect Watch: San Diego Padres Casey Kelly

Rick MillemanCorrespondent IDecember 9, 2010

SARASOTA, FL - MARCH 07:  Pitcher Casey Kelly #93 of the Boston Red Sox pitches against the Baltimore Orioles during a Grapefruit League Spring Training Game at Ed Smith Stadium on March 7, 2010 in Sarasota, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
J. Meric/Getty Images

Even though the Winter Meetings are coming to a close we can still stoke the fantasy hot stove with more prospect talk. This series on prospects will cover a wide range of players as well as positions. We’ll cover sleepers as well as some of the more obvious stars of the future.

The first time out we discussed the Seattle Mariners’ Dustin Ackley. The second prospect in the series looks like a sure thing, as he was the center piece of the Adrian Gonzalez-to-Boston trade.

Casey Kelly wasn’t the only Red Sox farmhand shipped off to San Diego last week, but he was the best. That is no slap on Anthony Rizzo or Reymond Fuentes, as all three players are young with high ceilings, but Kelly was the man San Diego had to have in this deal.

Kelly is probably a better fit at San Diego’s spacious PetCo Park than Boston’s Fenway Park due to his fly ball tendencies. As a 20 year old, Kelly pitched in double-A this season. The Red Sox just converted him to a full time pitcher, playing his first pro season as a pitcher and shortstop. When his bat didn’t develop, the Red Sox moved him to pitching full time.

Kelly spent last season at double-A, quite a place to begin as a full-time pitcher for a 20 year old. While he struggled in 2010, his velocity went up. He was pitching in the high 80’s and touching the low 90’s at times in 2009, he finished 2010 sitting in the low 90’s and touching 94-95 at times.

He didn’t blow the hitters away in 2010 and gave up a lot of hits, which isn’t close to elite. But this lack of domination could be attributed to a fingernail problem, which affected the command on his fastball and the bite on his curveball. Kelly is still learning how to be a full-time pitcher and to find a routine between starts that works for him.

Kelly spent a lot of 2010 working on his secondary pitches, which is part of the reason why his strikeout rate was somewhat lower than expected and his base on balls rate was higher. The increased velocity this year was shown on a consistent basis and he made huge strides in delivering his secondary pitches more frequently and for more strikes, especially as the year progressed.

The vultures are circling over Kelly’s head about his lackluster 2010 season, but there is no denying his skills. He has three plus pitches (fastball, curveball, change up), plus control, plus command, and good velocity. He is extremely athletic, has a very strong arm, and repeats his delivery very well. With those tools, it’s easy to envision him as an ace starting pitcher.

But will Kelly realize that potential?

This past year, he grew up a bit, his velocity greatly improved, and he added some weight. However, at the same time, he still maintained his athleticism and was able to repeat his delivery effortlessly. His command and polish diminished from 2009 but his stuff looked a lot better.

Kelly was so incredibly polished in 2009 that you couldn’t really take his statistics seriously. He seemed like a man among boys during his first professional year.

At times during 2010, the polish of the year before would shine and he looked like an elite prospect. But at other times, it abandoned him and it seemed as if his effort was waning and he looked bad. Still you have to remember he is young for his league and the massive number of changes he experienced over the last year.

He’s a bit of project, but it’s easy to imagine him as a front line starter. When he’s on, he gets a lot of ground balls but his groundball rate has dropped each time he’s been promoted.

Be patient. He should be ready by late 2011. He will be a star.