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What's a Great, Two-Way Prospect to Do?

By all accounts, Red Sox minor leaguer Casey Kelly is a terrific pitching prospect. Across the first half of the 2009 season, Kelly put up a 2.08 ERA in 95 innings (in Class A), earning a spot in the U.S. vs. the World Futures Game. And what did he do in the minor league all-star fiesta? He threw a scoreless inning, of course.

All of that should make Kelly a top pitching prospect, and in a way it does. Yet he doesn't even truly see himself that way. That's because Kelly is also a shortstop, a position the former 2008 first round pick views as his true calling.

As Yahoo!'s Jeff Passon lays out in this profile piece, Kelly signed with the Red Sox rather than attend Tennessee on a scholarship to play quarterback under one condition: He get to play shortstop rather than simply pitch, which is what Boston really wanted him to do.

There's a good reason why the Red Sox wanted him to focus on pitching: He's pretty incredible at it. Kelly, the son of former major league catcher Pat Kelly, racked up a nearly 5-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio in his time in low A Greenville and high A Salem. Between his outings with the two teams -- where Boston allowed him to pitch into the seventh inning because he was trying to use all of his allotment of innings in the first half of the season -- he had only one truly bad start (a seven-run loss). Any concern about that one loss is largely overshadowed by Kelly's first game in Salem, where he pitched six perfect innings on a grand total of 60 pitches. That's right, 18 total batters,10 pitches an inning.

Crunch all the numbers and eliminate his one bad blip, and Kelly comes out with truly astounding numbers: an ERA well below 2.00 in his first 95 innings of professional baseball.

Now he gets a chance to show that he can perform with his bat, too, though scouts seem less convinced. As Passan points out, Kelly's size and athleticism are a unique combination, the kind that could make him a rangy fielder with enormous upside. But while that's an encouraging trend, inconsistency at the plate -- he struggled with the bat in rookie ball but improved when he was promoted to short season Class A Lowell.

If Kelly continues to improve while pitching at higher and higher levels, the decision will essentially be made for him. No one, least of all Kelly, would let him use his own focus on becoming a shortstop as a justification for turning down the pitching overtures of the Red Sox in Boston.

But what happens if Kelly proves he can hit like a big leaguer, too? Given Boston's inability to find a permanent replacement at short stop (since the departure of Nomar Garciaparra), wouldn't the Red Sox benefit just as much from using the Sarasota, Fla. product in the field?

We may yet get to find out the answer to that dilemma. If Kelly hits anywhere near as well as he's pitched so far, Boston may find itself in a truly unique situation when deciding the future of a top prospect.

By Cameron Smith  |  July 14, 2009; 12:17 PM ET
Categories:  Red Sox  | Tags: Casey Kelly, Red Sox, minor league baseball, prospects  
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