The impetus behind the following post was to inform you about the Cubs’ potential interest in a former first-round pitching prospect named Casey Kelly.
But, before we get into that, let’s do a bit of a history lesson.
In November of 2002, Cubs President Theo Epstein became the youngest General Manager in MLB history, taking the leading role in Boston after it was famously turned down by Billy Beane.
During that time in Boston, Cubs GM Jed Hoyer and SVP of Scouting and Player Development Jason McLeod worked alongside Epstein in the sort of complementary roles they have with the Cubs now (these guys work well together).
But after spending a few seasons just behind Epstein, Hoyer began getting calls for GM spots on his own. He interviewed with the Nationals and Pirates, before eventually landing the gig with the San Diego Padres in October 2009. McLeod joined Hoyer in San Diego soon thereafter.
In December of 2010, Hoyer and McLeod sent Adrian Gonzalez to their former boss and friend in Boston in exchange for a prospect package led by …
If you’re sitting there thinking, “Hey now, Michael. I know that trade, and Anthony Rizzo was the big get!” You’re only half right. While the 6th round pick of the 2007 Draft, Anthony Rizzo, was a big part of that deal, he was not considered the Red Sox’s top prospect at the time. That distinction went to their first round pick from the 2008 Draft, Casey Kelly.
And as I mentioned in the intro to this article, the Chicago Cubs front office may be interested in reuniting with the former top prospect of both the Red Sox and the Padres, presumably on a minor league free agent deal:
— Tommy Stokke (@StokkeTommy) January 18, 2017
“But Michael, why did you have to go into such detail explaining Kelly’s origin stories when you could have just suggested that there was a previous front office connection?”
I’m glad you asked.
Although Kelly was a first round pick with a well-regarded scouting pedigree, he didn’t quite have the hottest start to his career in the results department. From 2009-2011, Kelly moved from Low-A, to High-A, to Double-A with the Red Sox (5.31 ERA at Double-A) and eventually Double-A with the Padres (3.98 ERA). And it wasn’t until that he repeated Double-A with the Padres in 2012 that he posted a strikeout rate above 20% for the first time in three years (which is typically not a great sign for a top pitching prospect).
After making a couple of starts at Triple-A, he eventually made his Major League debut … but struggled once again: six starts, 6.21 ERA, 19.1% strikeout rate, .315 batting average against. In April of 2013, Kelly underwent Tommy John surgery and missed nearly all of the 2013 and 2014 seasons. Now 27, Kelly has since pitched for the Braves at the Major League level, but was equally unsuccessful there (5.82 ERA).
In short, although Kelly was a top prospect for most of his career, he has never achieved impressive numbers, and has been significantly injured (TJS) already once in his career. All of which brings me back to the history lesson.
It’s one thing for a team’s front office to be familiar with a player, because they’ve been in the organization before, but Casey Kelly’s story is something different. The Cubs front office triumvirate of Epstein, Hoyer, and McLeod not only drafted Kelly, they traded him amongst each other and are reportedly looking to acquire him once again. This is their guy, for better or worse, and they’ll likely have a great deal more information and background on him than most players they’ll try to acquire.
In fact, it’s not unlike the multiple deals with Anthony Rizzo from that perspective. The Red Sox (Epstein/Hoyer/McLeod) drafted Rizzo, before they traded him to the Padres (Hoyer/McLeod), before they traded him to the Cubs (Epstein/Hoyer McLeod). And although Rizzo was considered a good prospect, he was never quite projected to become the player he is today. But this front office knew what and who they liked and they ceaselessly targeted him in acquisitions.
So although I can’t offer you the traditional, “But hey, here are some peripheral/advanced statistics that indicate an immediate career turn-around in Chicago,” I can say with confidence that Kelly could be the kind of target where there may be more to him than the numbers on the surface. And it’s not as if the Cubs would need him to be a breakout star for a depth signing to be considered a success.
I suppose we’ll have to wait and see if something happens on this front.