There can be fairly high expectations, perhaps unfair, for a player who is a key part of a blockbuster trade and who enters his first season in his new organization as the No. 1 prospect. Throw in the fact that he was pitching full-time for only his second season, and was there any way for Casey Kelly to live up to all of that?
Kelly, of course, was one of the key prospects the Red Sox sent to the Padres in return for Adrian Gonzalez this past December. A shortstop and pitcher in high school, Kelly attempted to do both in his first year as a pro before turning to pitching full-time in 2010. He's now spent two seasons in Double-A, one with each organization, yet he turned just 22 years old in October.
"Last year was getting used to pitching every five days, getting used to the routine," Kelly said of his 2010 campaign. "This year, I learned about using pitches, setting up hitters. Every start was getting me more and more into learning how to pitch and not just throw whatever the catcher calls."
Kelly's overall numbers were OK, albeit not eye-popping, finishing with a 3.98 ERA, a .278 batting-average against and 6.6 strikeouts per nine innings. As he pointed out, he did get stronger in the second half of the Texas League season, with a 3.21 ERA and a .258 BAA from the start of July until the end of the season. Critics will mention the inability to miss bats as a concern, but Kelly isn't too worried.
"I'd love to have those numbers higher, but for me it's just going out there and competing every day and taking something from every start," Kelly said. "From beginning to end, I grew a lot and got better. That's all that matters to me."
He's hoping it's enough to move him up a level in 2012 after two seasons in Double-A. But he also understands the game enough to realize he was aggressively pushed there by the Red Sox and that he's still ahead of the curve if he had to return to San Antonio next year.
"Wherever they want me to go," Kelly said. "It's not like I'm getting old for the league, but I think I pitched well enough to pitch at the next level."
Top 10 review
Padres top 10 prospects
|1.||Casey Kelly, RHP||Kelly|
|2.||Simon Castro, RHP||Rizzo|
|3.||Anthony Rizzo, 1B||Robbie Erlin, P|
|4.||Cory Luebke, LHP||Jedd Gyorko, 3B|
|5.||Jaff Decker, OF||Decker|
|6.||Reymond Fuentes, OF||Castro|
|7.||Drew Cumberland, 2B||Joe Wieland, P|
|8.||Matt Lollis, RHP||Fuentes|
|9.||Jason Hagerty, C||Hagerty|
|10.||Donavan Tate, OF||Lollis|
Kelly won't be alone in moving up and, if 2011 was any indication, finding success. Six other members of the Padres' Top 10 at the end of the season were a part of that San Antonio team that won 100 games, including the one that took home the Texas League title. "They had to rewrite the Texas League record books," Padres director of player development Randy Smith said recently. "It is the most victories since the Texas League went to a 144-game schedule in 1961. They really had a phenomenal season."
There was a good amount of upward mobility from San Antonio already in 2011, with seven of the 12 players who made their Major League debuts this season having spent some time with the Missions during the year.
Gaps were filled in more than capably with promotions from lower levels and with a key deal. Just like the Padres brought Kelly in via the trade route last offseason, San Antonio's rotation -- and the Padres' Top 10 -- improved tremendously when Robbie Erlin and Joe Wieland came over for Mike Adams at the Trade Deadline. Erlin had a 1.38 ERA in six starts post-trade, while Wieland had a 2.77 mark in his five San Antonio outings. Both newcomers won playoff games as well, as did fellow Top 10 pitcher Simon Castro (Kelly pitched well in a no-decision), as the Missions went 6-1 in the postseason.
"We had a lot of fun together," Kelly said. "Having Joe and Rob join us, having our rotation with them, was pretty ridiculous. They helped us win a championship, which was fun.
"You always want to develop and get better and I felt our whole team did. At the same time, we were winning games and won a championship. We did both this year, a real testament to our coaches, getting us better and topping it off by winning."
Organizational Players of the Year
MLB.com's Preseason Picks
Jaff Decker, OF: Decker did stay healthy, as predicted, and while some of his numbers were good -- 19 homers, 92 RBIs and 103 walks -- his .236 average and 145 K's keep him from winning this honor.
Matt Lollis, RHP: After a huge leap Lollis made in 2010, the thought was the big right-hander would start the year in Lake Elsinore, make it to San Antonio and lead the system in ERA. While he did strike out 114 in 119 1/3 IP, he finished with a 5.35 ERA and didn't make it out of the California League, though he fared a bit better in relief, particularly in the playoffs.
MLB.com's Postseason Selections
Jedd Gyorko, 3B: The 2010 second-rounder finished just a home run shy of winning the organizational triple crown, finishing with a .333-25-114 line to edge out Anthony Rizzo (.331-26-101) for the award.
Keyvius Sampson, RHP: The 2009 fourth-round pick made his full-season debut a doozy, topping the organization in ERA (2.90) and strikeouts (143) while going 12-3 and holding Midwest League hitters to a .192 batting average for Fort Wayne.