Kelly always looking to learn behind the plate

MLB's top catching prospect is pursuing degree in economics during spring

Kelly always looking to learn behind the plate

JUPITER, Fla. -- The turning point for Carson Kelly came not from a conversation or physical adjustment, but rather through the words of a book recommended by his lockermate.

It was the summer of 2015, and though Kelly had taken quickly to the position change the Cards suggested two years earlier, he was floundering at the plate. Teammate Collin Radack, who had been promoted to Class A Advanced Palm Beach in mid-May, suggested Kelly turn to a book that had once helped him.

"Mind Gym," it was called, and it offered the sort of psychological insight and motivational stories that immediately resonated with Kelly.

"It's almost like the doors opened from there," Kelly said.

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Kelly finished that season on an upswing and broke out in 2016, a year in which he climbed from Double-A to the Majors and established himself as baseball's top catching prospect, according to MLBPipeline.com. That rise, Kelly believes, was expedited by lessons gleaned from that read.

Nothing stuck with him more than the necessity to get out of one's own way. For Kelly, it was a simple, yet profound, principle.

"The fact that I could get out of something if it goes bad, that was a confidence booster for me," Kelly said. "I took that into the next year, then into [last] September, and then into the [Arizona] Fall League."

Kelly has picked up the book a few times since that season, including this winter when he reread it. The 22-year-old who bypassed college to sign as a second-round Draft pick in 2012 is the cerebral type. It's one of the reasons he so quickly embraced the move to catcher and explains why he still carries around a pocket notebook to scribble down words of advice, impactful instruction or scouting reports.

Kelly is top catching prospect

Those notes go back a couple years now, and in preparation for another year in big league camp, Kelly flipped through the pages. He relived the experience of being in the Majors last September and retraced the scouting reports he had scribed so that he would be familiar with the tendencies and repertoires of the teammates he'd be catching.

"The number one quality [of a catcher] is conscientiousness, and he has that," said manager Mike Matheny, a four-time Gold Glove Award-winning catcher. "He always wants to learn. He's had that since day one. He has enough humility to understand where he is as a young player, and he has confidence, too.

"He's just got a real good makeup as a learner."

Kelly's days are consumed by learning right now, as he continues to push toward earning the economics degree he promised his parents he'd pursue after turning pro. He arrives at the Cardinals' complex around 6 a.m. each morning, stays until mid-afternoon and then retreats to his residence for a few hours of homework.

There are three online classes -- religion in history, managing organizations and Lead 422 (a leadership course) -- on the docket this semester. Kelly completed a quiz earlier this week and has a paper due on Sunday. His intention is to become a college graduate in 2018.

By then, he certainly has the chance to be in St. Louis. He made a strong impression last September and would be in the mix for an Opening Day roster spot if the Cardinals' starting catcher, Yadier Molina, was ready to reduce his workload.

Neither Molina, nor the Cardinals, have yet reached that point. And so, Kelly simply can take more time to learn.

"It's the challenge," Kelly said. "There's never a finish line. There's no stop to it. You're always trying to get better."

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.