FAYETTEVILLE, N.C.—With a fastball in the low 80s during his senior year of high school, Ryan Kelly did not receive much college attention. In fact, he only got one Division I offer.
"Saint Joseph’s was the only D-I school to officially offer me a spot on their team, " Kelly said. "But after touring, I knew that was where I wanted to go."
Kelly was a three-sport athlete in high school, but baseball was always the sport he loved the most. A lack of control has overshadowed his potential for most of his career, but now heading into his senior season the once-overlooked righthander is getting some draft buzz.
"He’s gotten a lot better here," Saint Joseph’s coach Fritz Hamburg said. "His command was a little erratic before, but now that he’s finding it, you can really see his stuff."
That "stuff" led Kelly to 35 strikeouts and an opponents’ average of .187 this spring for the Hawks, along with a 2.36 ERA-but the biggest progress this year might be his command. He only walked 10 in 27 innings, a huge improvement from the 34 walks in 37 innings he issued in his first two seasons.
His progression was evident at the Coastal Plains League all-star game on July 11. Kelly flashed a quality slider in the 83-84 mph range and showed depth on a few low 80s changeups. His fastball sat 89-91, but has been at 92-93 this summer. Some observers even reported it topping out at 94.
"When he is on, not many get the barrel on it," Hamburg said. "He’s filthy."
As his control and offerings continue to improve, Kelly has begun to catch some eyes. His developing pitches, along with his compact arm motion, have earned Kelly recognition from scouts.
"People talk, they know about him, but since he pitched at the end he didn’t get that much exposure." Hamburg said.
After speaking with scouts in the spring, Kelly ultimately did not get the call on draft day. This is something he has taken in stride, viewing another year in college as an opportunity.
"I’m just excited to get another year to develop and polish my stuff," Kelly said.
His development this summer was going swimmingly for the CPL’s Wilmington Sharks. Working exclusively out of the ‘pen this summer, Kelly sports a 0.43 ERA over 21 innings of work. Opposing hitters were batting just .228 against him. But that exciting part is his control-he has recorded 24 strikeouts to just eight walks in the Coastal Plain League.
Kelly will attempt to carry his strong summer over to school next year, where coach Hamburg has a big role paved out for him.
"He’s going to be a key piece for us next year." Hamburg said. "He will big for us in the back of the pen, whether that is closer, or set-up guy, he’s going to be the guy we turn to for big outs."
As for Kelly, he knows the road ahead, but keeps a positive outlook on the work ahead of him.
"My goals are to keep improving, keep getting stronger," Kelly said. "On top of that I would love to get drafted."