A first-round pick by the Red Sox in 2008, Casey Kelly split his first professional season between the mound and shortstop before deciding to pitch full-time. He struggled during the 2010 season, which ended early due to a strained muscle in his back.
It appears that Kelly has found his path with a new organization. The 22-year-old right-hander was traded to San Diego in December 2010 for All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. Moving to the hitter-friendly Texas League, the Padres' No. 2 prospect won 11 games for San Antonio, started the All-Star Game and won a league championship.
Kelly, the son of former Major League catcher Pat Kelly, talks about staying healthy in 2011, preparing for the big leagues and making a pivotal career decision.
MiLB.com: How satisfying was it to pitch as well as you did in 2011?
Casey Kelly: It was great. I think that all the hard work I did in the offseason getting ready, spent last year in Double-A, spent some time in big league camp and learned some things from the big league guys, which was great. Just going out there every fifth day and competing, and we had a great team there, which made it fun and led to the success I had.
MiLB.com: After the way the 2010 season played out, what did you do to prepare yourself for last season?
Kelly: Last year, I worked on trying to be more consistent. In 2010, I didn't make every start, I missed a couple of starts from a couple of things I could've prevented during the season. Last year, I just worked on being as fluid as possible. That's the biggest thing with me as a pitcher, just being in a rhythm, everything working smoothly. It's tough being a pitcher. You kind of start to lose your athletic ability really quick, so you have to stay on top of that.
MiLB.com: What do you think you have to do to take the next step?
Kelly: I think just keep working hard. I worked really hard this offseason, had a great workout regimen and worked really hard on being athletic. Letting things work a bit easier, taking some ground balls, throwing the football around a little, trying to get back to where I was in high school with just being athletic and letting things work easy for me. Then just going out there in Spring Training and going in there and showing what I can do and see what happens. I definitely expect to be up in San Diego at some point in time this year.
MiLB.com: You've only been pitching full-time for two seasons. How would you rate your pitches?
Kelly: I think that you're always working on stuff, you're always trying to get better. I don't think there's a point in time where you're not working on something. I think it's an ongoing thing. My fastball velocity has gone up a lot the last couple of years, so [I'm] learning how to deal with that. My changeup is developing more and more every time out, every time I throw it; same thing with my curveball, getting used to throwing it for strikes and in different counts. I think the more and more reps I get out on the mound, the better those pitches are going to be.
MiLB.com: You come from a baseball family. What kind of advice have you received?
Kelly: My dad's been coaching forever, my brother played in the Minors and my cousin, and it's been a family tree of baseball players. They just say go out there and have fun. We talk about things after games; I'll call my dad after and we'll talk about things. It's always nice to have him there. He's the one that's known me best just because of watching me grow up and everything, he can pinpoint things pretty quickly.
MiLB.com: How does your dad follow you?
Kelly: He's got his own team with the Reds, so he usually doesn't get to see me, but he usually tries to keep up on the box score. Sometimes the games are on MiLB and stuff, so he can catch it at a later date and pick some things out and we'll talk about it.
MiLB.com: How exciting was it to be part of the Missions' Texas League championship team?
Kelly: It was great. The team that we had was so much fun. On the field and off the field, we all had a good relationship -- we're all good friends. We work together well. To just go out there, win that many games and win is something that you don't really see in the Minor Leagues a lot. Our coaching staff and our players worked hard in practice, and it showed in games. It's definitely a great feeling as being a great competitor and a great athlete. You always want to win some games, so to have a year like that is great.
MiLB.com: You've been ranked among MLB.com's Top Prospects each of the last three seasons. What does that mean to you?
Kelly: Pretty much nothing. You try not to pay attention to anything in the media or anything like that. It's definitely a great honor to be in the Top 50 with all those great players, but at the same time it's something I don't worry about. I just think about things that I have to do to get myself better and the day-to-day grind of playing baseball.
MiLB.com: As a former shortstop, are you grateful to be playing for a National League organization and get a chance to hit a little bit?
Kelly: I think that was the most exciting thing about being traded. I thought, "Man, I get to hit now." I'm pretty excited about that. I got to hit last year a little bit. I think I'm a lot better hitter now that I don't care about things now that I don't play [shortstop]. I definitely miss it, and it's nice to be able to hit every once in a while.
MiLB: You got a chance to spend some time with the Major League club at the end of last season. What was that experience like?
Kelly: It was great. To be able to go up there, when you first get called up there's a lot going on. You have to worry about everything and how things work and then you have to worry about performance. The nice thing about when I got called up is that we didn't have to worry about playing, so we can see how everything works and go through the drills and kind of see how they do things and not worry about, "Oh, man, I have to perform on the field." So I think that the next time you get up there you know what to expect, you know what goes on, you feel a little more comfortable, and I think that's going to help you on the field.
MiLB.com: When did you know you wanted to become a professional baseball player?
Kelly: The day I got drafted. I think that was it definitely. Even when I got drafted, it wasn't clear what I wanted to do. I had signed a letter of intent to play football at the University of Tennessee, and that was something I really wanted to do. When I got drafted, it kind of threw a wrench into the system. It took me a while to figure out what I wanted to do. Ultimately, it came out to baseball is my first love, and that was something I really wanted to do. So I took that and it's been working out great so far.
MiLB.com: What has been your favorite Minor League park to play in as a visitor? What makes it stand out?
Kelly: I would have to say, we played in Springfield this year and their park [Hammons Field] is one of the nicest and coolest to play at. I think it's just because it's so close to St. Louis you get a lot of the Cardinals fans there, and they have a packed house every night and the atmosphere makes it that much better to go out and play when there's fans there. I think it's just very unique because it's so close to a big league town.
MiLB.com: Random, final question: What was the last movie you saw?
Kelly: It might be a chick flick, I don't even know. I think at my house was Life as We Know It. Great movie. It's something I actually enjoy, I enjoy a good chick flick here and there. I get on my couch and turn on the television and get into a good chick flick in the afternoon -- calms me down and makes for a real chill afternoon.