The San Diego Padres have high hopes for Casey Kelly. After all, the Padres traded Adrian Gonzalez for a package centered around the right-handed pitcher. Last season, Padres fans got to see a glimpse of their potential future top of the rotation starter as he made six starts spanning 29 innings. His numbers were not very good, a 2-3 record, 6.21 ERA, 1.69 WHIP, and 10 BBs.
However, Kelly is still just 23 and won’t turn 24 until October which means there is still plenty of time for him to mature as a pitcher, a position he didn’t really want until the Boston Red Sox moved him there full time after letting him try his hand at shortstop briefly after drafting him.
The talent is there with Kelly. However, the feel for pitching is not. The Padres might have rushed him to the big leagues last year as he threw only 12 innings at AAA. This year they should not be so foolish, allowing him a full year at AAA to refine his feel for pitching and developing an inconsistent curveball.
This season should be all about getting ready for 2014 when Kelly should become a member of the Padres rotation for many years. He still has plenty of work to do on disrupting the timing of hitters who have been able to time his pitches all too well because his delivery, while fluid, lacks deception and his fastball, while sitting in the mid-90’s, lacks explosion.
There is much to like about Kelly. However, since he is still a relatively new pitcher with little mound experience under his belt, the Padres must take a patient approach with him. There is no need to rush him to the Padres rotation this season even if he dominates in spring training. The Padres should allow him to develop a full year at AAA and perhaps, if he warrants it, call him up at the end of the year. Bringing him up and allowing him to get shelled by MLB hitters won’t do anything to help him.
Kelly is a few steps away from being a viable option in the rotation moving forward. There is no reason to rush that.
Ultimately, I think Kelly can emerge as a top of the rotation starter. Think Ben Sheets or James Shields as comparable pitchers. He will benefit from playing in the NL West and especially at Petco Park and he should be able to become a leading member of the rotation by 2014 but it is important the Padres let him fine tune some things at AAA before giving him a spot in the rotation.