- Full name Joseph William Kelly
- Born 06/09/1988 in Anaheim, CA
- Profile Ht.: 6'1" / Wt.: 174 / Bats: R / Throws: R
- School UC Riverside
- Debut 06/10/2012
Drafted in the 3rd round (98th overall) by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2009 (signed for $341,000).
View Draft ReportPlagued by shoulder trouble early in his college career, Kelly has emerged as one of the nation's top college closers in 2009. At 6-foot-1, he doesn't fit the classic image of the physically intimidating closer, but his stuff is plenty big. In fall ball Kelly flashed a fastball that ranged from 93-96 mph, with wicked natural sink, and he maintained his stuff in the spring and now regularly clocks in at 94-97. Strictly a short relief man, Kelly is an aggressive hurler who wants the ball in pressure situations. He had nine saves this spring for the Highlanders, with 18 strikeouts against five walks in 25 innings, though his 5.33 ERA wasn't impressive. In his delivery, Kelly is reminiscent of Brett Hunter, chosen last year out of Pepperdine, with a high-effort delivery from a low three-quarters arm slot, and he falls off to his left after delivery. Most pitchers begin their pro careers as starters and are then converted to relievers, but Kelly figures to be a closer from the opening bell. His stuff may help him rush through the minors as quickly as any pitcher in the draft class.
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During consecutive starts at Palm Beach in May, Kelly took no-hit bids into the eighth inning. Both of his gems were microcosms of his potential. He overwhelmed hitters with a power sinker, coaxed 24 groundouts in 15 total innings, had fits of wildness (walking five in one start) and hit a few batters. "I want to go inside to every hitter at least once," he explains. "Eventually I'll get strikes." Kelly's 2011 season took a downturn after May, as he worked just 12 innings in June due to circumstances and because he didn't pitch well following a promotion to Double-A in July. He set a UC Riverside career record with 24 saves but the Cardinals launched him as a starter to get innings. What was a temporary assignment has become his means to advancement. Kelly sports upper-register velocity, sitting around 93-94 mph with his fastball and touching 98 as a starter. He hit 100 mph working as a reliever in 2010. His fastball has darting sink, and he succeeds when getting grounders rather than strikeouts. When he commands his fastball, he's able to better utilize his hard slider and his changeup. His slider has some bite to it, but his command of the pitch can be flighty. He also has a curveball that's mostly just for show. Kelly's wiry frame and long-arm delivery may not fit a starter's workload and eventually could recast him as a classic sinker/slider reliever. He'll return to the Springfield rotation in 2012 to get innings to work on command to give him grounders and ownership of the inside edge of the plate.
Kelly set a UC Riverside record with 24 career saves, but the Cardinals made him a starter at the beginning of his first full pro season in 2010. It was meant to be a temporary assignment, giving him innings to improve his secondary pitches, but the results could prolong it. Kelly made adjustments with his delivery and showed enough command with his curveball to spend the entire year in Quad Cities' piggyback rotation. Kelly has an electric fastball, ranging from 93-99 mph last year, and he has touched 100 mph as a reliever. When he gets on top of the ball, he creates good sink to go along with raw velocity, and he can run his fastball in on righthanders. He throws two breaking balls, with his slider a better pitch but his curve featuring more command. Both have the potential to be above-average offerings, and his changeup has moments of effectiveness. Further improving his command will be key to Kelly's development, and his long arm action and wiry frame have some wondering if he can handle a starter's workload. When he's at his best, he generates more groundballs than strikeouts. Kelly has closer upside and will advance to high Class A Palm Beach this year.
Kelly set a UC Riverside record with 24 career saves, and the Cardinals signed him for $341,000 as a 2009 third-round pick to be a reliever. But it didn't take long for the organization to decide to try him as a starter. He'll begin 2010 in a rotation, probably in low Class A. He may not cut the image of a power pitcher with his skinny 6-foot-1 frame, but Kelly has a 94-95 mph fastball that has been known to hit 98. He has an aggressive flair for using his fastball, which has biting sink and generates a lot of swings and misses and weak grounders. His hard slider and changeup both have a chance to be at least average pitches, which is why the Cardinals think he can make it as a starter. The biggest questions for Kelly in that role will be whether he'll have enough command to keep his pitch counts down and enough durability to log the heavier workload. He had shoulder problems early in his college career and throws with a lot of effort in his delivery. Scouts aren't in love with his mechanics because he has a big arm sweep in the back of his delivery that makes it difficult for his arm to catch up with the rest of his body. At the least, working out of the rotation will give him the opportunity to work on his secondary pitches.