Carson Kelly was, for a very long time, one of the next big catching prospects. Then in the St. Louis Cardinals system, Kelly spent huge chunks of the 2016, 2017, and 2018 season at AAA, only periodically getting a chance to come up and be the back-up for Yadier Molina, who hardly ever sits.
When he did get some playing time, Kelly struggled badly at the plate, hitting just .154/.227/.188 over 131 plate appearances. In that small sample, he was virtually unplayable, which made the Cardinals’ persistent preference to ride Molina even more sensible. Out of options, Kelly was then sent to the Diamondbacks this offseason as part of the Paul Goldschmidt trade.
I mention this because something Kelly just said about his time in St. Louis, and his eagerness to be the starter for the Diamondbacks, really stuck out to me: “In the big leagues, I’ve only had a chance to fail. I’ve never really had a chance to grow.” That really sums up how it’s been for Kelly, who felt like he had to press every time he got a tiny whiff of a chance at playing time. “Look at all the backups that Yadi’s had,” Kelly continued. “None of them have been killing it offensively, defensively. But that’s just the way it goes. You get your one game every two weeks and you’re expected to go out and be locked in.”
And why am I mentioning that?
Well, Victor Caratini has never been viewed as the same caliber of catching prospect as Kelly was in those days, but his bat absolutely could be projected to be as good as Kelly’s in the big leagues. Yet, like Kelly, when Caratini’s had his very limited chances to play in the big leagues, he’s struggled at the plate (.238/.303/.317 over 266 PAs).
You hope he wouldn’t suffer from the same issue of pressing as Kelly has, given the way Caratini was so sparingly used as the “back-up” behind an aggressively-deployed Willson Contreras last year. Caratini more or less became the regular back-up in July last year, right at the half-way mark, and over the season’s final three months, he started just 23 of the Cubs’ final 81 games – 28%.
In other words, if the Cubs (sigh) aren’t going to bring in a veteran back-up who is used to this kind of thing and who can contribute to Contreras’s development as a receiver, then they need to ENSURE that Caratini is getting regular starts as the back-up. Not only for Contreras’s sake – he caught far more innings than any other catcher in baseball last year, and his second half sure seemed to reflect a guy who was ground down and could no longer hit the ball as hard as he usually could – but also for Caratini’s sake. Give the guy some regular playing time to show that it’s not a matter of him having to rake THAT DAY or else he won’t see a start again for another week and a half.
More starts for Caratini: it likely would be good for Contreras, and it could also be good for Caratini.