The state of Oregon hasn't had a high school player selected in the first round since lefthander Matt Smith, who went 16th overall to the Royals in 1994.
While Carson Kelly probably won't go that high, he's likely to be the highest Oregon high schooler drafted since righthander Steve Bechler went in the third round to the Orioles in 1998.
Kelly, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound third baseman and pitcher, is one of the draft's top two-way talents and Northwest scouts are divided on where he fits best. As a hitter, Kelly shows a nice line-drive swing with good loft and power potential. He's a below-average runner, but has good mobility at third base with quick actions and a strong arm. On the mound, he sits in the 89-91 mph range with a heavy fastball. His secondary stuff needs to be tightened up, including a 78-82 mph changeup and a 73-76 curveball. Kelly has excellent maturity and will be a leader on and off the field. He is young for the class and won't turn 18 until the day after the signing deadline.
Kelly's season with the Westview Wildcats kicks off today.
He hasn't played in games that count since November, when he was a key part of Team USA's 18-and-under squad that won gold medals at the COPABE Pan Am Championship in Cartagena, Colombia.
Kelly hit .231/.286/.282 over 39 at-bats, but shined on the mound, going 3-0, 1.42 with 21 strikeouts and three walks over 19 innings. He started and won the team's championship game against Canada.
"Overall, the whole experience was just the opportunity of a lifetime," Kelly said. "It was a blessing to be a part of this team."
Kelly believes the team had a little extra sense of unity partly because of the living conditions the team had to overcome and partly because of the fact that this group stuck together after several other players withdrew from the event when the tournament moved to November.
"As soon as we got to Miami, it just felt like a family," Kelly said. "It seemed like we had been playing together forever when, in reality, we only played for a couple weeks together. It was just a tremendous opportunity and I was just truly blessed to be a part of it."
It's not unusual for teammates to develop a strong bond after spending so much time with each other, but Kelly's time with Team USA this fall had a couple lasting memories in addition to the team taking home gold medals.
The group spent Thanksgiving in Colombia, eating a turkey dinner with the parents who traveled down to the event before spending some time on the beach. Several members of the team were also briefly trapped in the hotel elevator.
"It was the first day, so we get there and we all go up to our room. We dropped off our stuff and then we're all going down to eat and I get in first, I'm in the back," Kelly said. "And everyone just piles in and I'm like, 'Uh oh. . . this isn't going to be good.' We ended up getting 12 guys in the elevator. We're on the 15th floor and we're going down and it seems like a normal ride and then we hit like the third floor and it just kind of gave out and just went straight down. So we hit the first floor and made a loud thud and we're just like, 'This isn't good.' We were stuck in there for like five minutes and once they got it open, we had to step up over the first floor basically because it went down a little too far, but we all got out safe. It was a little scary, but sometimes that happens."
Kelly was honored to represent his country, but also spent some time playing north of the border and was facing some familiar faces the tournament's championship game.
"In sixth or seventh grade, Nike moved us up to Canada," Kelly said. Kelly's father, Mike, is the global brand director for Nike Golf. "So, there were a couple guys on the Canadian National Team that I actually played with on Team Ontario, which is the province I lived in. I lived in Toronto for two years."
Also during his time in Colombia, Kelly made his commitment to Oregon.
"I feel like in the next few years, Oregon is going to get on the map and the program is going to be like their football team," Kelly said. "They're only in their fourth year, but I feel that in the next two years it's going to blow up. It's going to find itself and Oregon is going to be known for baseball a lot more. I want to be a part of that and hopefully help them get to Omaha."
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