CHRISTIAN KELLEY, CATCHER
|Born: September 23, 1993
Height: 5′ 11″
Drafted: 11th Round, 337th Overall, 2015
How Acquired: Draft
College: California Polytechnic State University
WTM’s PLAYER PROFILE
|The Pirates drafted Kelley as a sophomore, but he was on the old side, turning 22 in September 2015. He graduated high school in 2012, then went to UC Santa Barbara, where he red shirted for a year. He didn’t start with Cal Poly until the 2014 season, and didn’t get much time, with just 65 at-bats. He hit for a .200/.215/.268 line and threw out 26% of base stealers in that limited time. Kelley got more playing time in 2015, and had a much better season. He hit for .341/.417/.408 and saw some defensive improvements, throwing out 33% of base stealers. He’s regarded well for his defense behind the plate. Kelley didn’t get much experience in college ball and the one year in which he received significant playing time he performed very well, making him something of a wild card. Despite his remaining eligibility, he signed a week after the draft.
Kelley was the starting catcher for Morgantown. Other than drawing walks, he struggled at the plate. He struck out once every four and a half at-bats, which is a lot for a guy who didn’t hit for any power at all. RHPs gave him a lot of trouble, holding him to a .547 OPS compared to .673 against LHPs. He had some issues behind the plate as well, with eight errors and 14 passed balls. He threw out 26% of base stealers.
For most of the season, Kelley was the starting catcher at West Virginia. He got very good reviews for his receiving and he threw out 36% of base stealers, but he didn’t hit much, with no power. He started hitting a little better near the end of the time there, batting .269 with both of his HRs in his last 14 games. In the second week of August, the Pirates promoted Kelley to Bradenton, where he shared time with Taylor Gushue. He hit well there, although he also struck out a lot. He threw out 38% of base stealers after the promotion.
The Pirates invited Kelley to spring training as a non-roster player, which is a sign of how much they like his defensive play. He then went back to Bradenton, where he was the regular catcher all season. He played the season at age 23, which isn’t young for the level, but for a college draftee he was relatively inexperienced as a catcher. He hit well in the early season, with a 314/419/393 line through May, but he completely stopped hitting after that, batting 188/274/220 over the season’s last three months. On the season he hit LHPs reasonably well, with a .735 OPS, but struggled badly against RHPs, posting a .598 OPS against them. He threw out 25% of base stealers and had nine passed balls; by comparison, backup catcher John Bormann threw out 32% and had one passed ball in a little over a third of the playing time.
The Pirates liked Kelley’s defense enough to move him up to Altoona despite his struggles at the plate in 2017. For the second straight year, he hit well early in the year. After a weak April, he hit 293/354/466 in May, including uncharacteristic power. Starting in June, he struggled the rest of the year. Overall, he showed more power, but sacrificed patience. He continued to play well defensively and threw out 35% of base stealers.
Kelley shared catching duties at Indianapolis with Steve Baron. Obviously, he struggled severely at the plate. He did a good job of receiving and committed only three passed balls, while throwing out 29% of base stealers. The Pirates did not call him up in September.
The Pirates brought Kelley to their alternate training site at Altoona, but he had wrist surgery and missed most of the activity there.
The Pirates’ signing of Luke Maile and John Ryan Murphy prior to the 2020 season raised doubts about whether they see Kelley as a potential major leaguer. He’ll be eligible for the Rule 5 draft twice and still has a year before minor league free agency.
|2021: Minor League Contract
|Signing Bonus: N/A
MiLB Debut: 2015
MiLB FA Eligible: 2021
MLB FA Eligible:
Rule 5 Eligible: 2018
Added to 40-Man:
Options Remaining: 3
MLB Service Time: 0.000
|June 10, 2015: Drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 11th round, 337th overall pick; signed on June 18.|