Viva El Birdos: Interview with St. Louis Cardinals Pitcher Joe Kelly

GIF Credit: MLB GIFS

GIF Credit: MLB GIFS

As most of you already know, I have moved my blogging ability over to SB Nation’s Viva El Birdos.

Don’t worry, I am still known as stlCupofJoe over there as well. That is something I hope I am able to retain for the entirety of my blogging “career.”

I am so grateful for the amount of opportunities I have had since joining Viva El Birdos. I have been able to interview many of the Cardinals top prospects: Lee StoppelmanKurt Heyer, Joe Cuda, Alex Reyes, Carson Kelly, Rob Kaminsky, and Oscar Mercado. I still have interviews set to publish on Marco Gonzales and Randal Grichuk later this week. If you have missed any of the above interviews or just would like to read them again, feel free to check them out by clicking on the player’s name.

Each one of those interviews have been absolutely awesome. However, I am writing this post to bring your attention to the biggest interview I have had in my short blogging career. I was able to exchange questions and answers with St. Louis Cardinals hybrid pitcher, Joe Kelly, and the link to that interview can be found here. I can assure you that this interview is in the “must-read” category for all Cardinals fans because some of his answers are absolutely priceless.

Also, I am in charge of managing the site’s Twitter and Facebook accounts, so if you have accounts on either of those, make sure to give us a follow or a like:

You can follow us on Twitter: @vivaelbirdos or Facebook: Viva El Birdos.

Thank you so much for your continued support, and I hope you have continued to follow me at my new location.

Go Cards!

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A Look to the Future: St. Louis Cardinals Top 7 Prospects

taveras

1. Oscar Taveras, OF (AAA)

2013: .306 BA, .341 OBP, 12 2B, HR, 32 RBI, 5/6 SB’s

His nagging ankle injury that ultimately led to season-ending surgery slowed down Taveras’ development in 2013. When healthy, he proved that his bat was AAA-ready. Had he not gotten injured, he would likely be up with the big league squad by now. His future position for the Cardinals still remains unclear–though he is capable of playing centerfield, he will likely end up as a rightfielder long-term.

Also, according to Keith Law of ESPN, Taveras is the second best prospect in all of baseball, so this tells me that he deserves the top spot for the Cardinals. Because of the extent of his injury, I expect him to start 2014 in AAA, but he will likely be in St. Louis soon thereafter.
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cmart

2. Carlos Martinez, RHP (AA/AAA/MLB)
2013 Minors: 6-3, 2.49 ERA, 79.2 IP, 72 K’s, 28 BB’s
2013 Majors: 2-1, 5.27 ERA, 27.1 IP, 24 K’s, 9 BB’s

Is Martinez’s future in the starting rotation or at the back-end of the bullpen? This is yet to be seen, but the 22-year-old fireballer has a bright future. The future is now, though, because he will likely play an integral role in the playoffs this season.

Of all the Cardinals’ pitching prospects, he has the most electric stuff. If he is able to develop a secondary pitch that he can consistently throw for strikes, he will become nearly unhittable for years to come. Considering the amount of arms competing for the rotation next season, he will likely start 2014 out of the ‘pen.
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wong

3. Kolten Wong, 2B (AAA/MLB)
2013: .286 BA, .341 OBP, 22 2B, 8 3B, 10 HR, 45 RBI, 23/24 SB’s

Wong was an All-Star second baseman in AAA this season. He is the complete package–hitting for average and some pop, fielding his position, and a threat to run on the basepaths.

He was called up to be a spark-plug for the St. Louis offense during a rut but has yet to see consistent playing time. He has struggled at the plate in the big leagues, hitting just .148 in 54 at-bats. The off-season will do him well because to me, his swing looks a little out-of-whack right now. Wong is the future at second base and will likely be the team’s lead-off hitter for years to come.
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carson

4. Carson Kelly, 3B (A/SS-A)
2013: .257 BA, .322 OBP, 22 2B, 6 HR, 45 RBI

Kelly, just 18 years old at the time, started out the season on the Peoria Chiefs. He struggled mightily, hitting just .219 and was demoted to the Short-Season State College Spikes. His bat heated up for State College and helped lead the team to the championship series.

Now 19 years old, look for Kelly to get a second shot with Peoria in 2014. He may be a lot further away from the big leagues than the other members on this list, but in my opinion, only Taveras has a higher ceiling than his. He was one of the most highly touted draft picks in 2012 and has the skills to be an impact third baseman for the Cardinals someday. I look forward to seeing his sweet swing in St. Louis in the future.
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photo 2

5. James Ramsey, OF (A+/AA/AAA)

2013: .265 BA, .373 OBP, 16 2B, 4 3B, 16 HR, 51 RBI

I have been a fan of Ramsey’s since he was drafted in 2012. Yet, he only had one home run after being drafted, so I was worried that his power was not going to translate to professional baseball. He put my doubt to rest this season by clubbing 16 home runs (15 of them for Springfield).

He is an above average defender in centerfield with one of the better outfield arms in the entire organization. To top it all off, he is a great guy and will surely be a fan favorite in St. Louis someday. I think he will start 2014 in Memphis but will likely make the trip to St. Louis by the end of the season.
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piscotty

6. Stephen Piscotty, OF (A+/AA)

2013: .295 BA, .346 OBP, 23 2B, 2 3B, 15 HR, 59 RBI, 11/19 SB’s

Piscotty started out with High-A Palm Beach and earned the promotion to AA Springfield half-way through the season. The 2012 first-round draft pick out of Stanford did not disappoint at either level in 2013.

He was drafted as a third baseman, but he has been able to make the transition to outfield pretty well so far in his young career. Based on his success in Springfield, I see him starting out next season with Memphis. If he continues to develop, he could possibly be a member of the 2014 September call-ups to provide bench depth for the stretch run.
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marco

7. Marco Gonzales, LHP (Rk/A+)

2013: 8 games (6 starts), 0-0 record, 2.70 ERA, 23.1 IP, 23 K’s, 8 BB’s

Gonzales is the only member of this year’s draft class to make my list. He is a polished college arm that will likely jump a few levels in 2014. I do not think it is too far-fetched to see him make it all the way to Memphis next year.

The young lefty has a bright future, and his rise throughout the minors might resemble that of Michael Wacha‘s next year. He is a name to keep an eye on because he will likely make it to St. Louis a lot sooner than many would think.
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Just Short of Making the List:

Tyrell Jenkins, RHP: He injured his shoulder multiple times in 2013, and ultimately, he needed season-ending surgery. If the rehabilitation process goes well, he should be ready for 2014. His stuff is amazing but very unpolished. Because of his inability to remain healthy and the fact that shoulder injuries can be scary, I just could not put him in my top 7.

Zach Petrick, RHP: Petrick had an amazing 2013–one that even got Keith Law’s attention. Law said that he could see him being a back-end of the rotation guy in the future. However, Petrick struggled a little bit in Springfield and at the age of 24, he fell just short of making my list.

John Gast, LHP: Gast saw time in the big leagues this season and was pretty successful. Yet, he, like Jenkins, required season-ending shoulder surgery. Unlike Jenkins, however, his surgery was on his lat muscle which is not part of the shoulder joint so he should be able to recover completely from the injury. Yet, until he can prove that he has fully recovered, I could not put him on the list either.

Rob Kaminsky, LHP: This 19-year-old lefty has a very bright future for the Cardinals. However, since he is still 19 and has a long way to go, I could not put him on my list. After a full season in 2014, we will be able to get a grasp at what he truly has to offer. I could see him starting off next season in Peoria or even Palm Beach.

Until next time…

Joe

For more updates, follow me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe

Official member of the STLSportsMinute Network

Special thanks goes out to Matt Sebek and the Rookies App for providing me with a platform to make the virtual baseball cards for each player on my list. Make sure to check out the App in the AppStore!

Looking Back at James Ramsey, Jordan Swagerty, Kurt Heyer, Carson Kelly

As most of you already know, I picked up sports blogging for the first time this summer. I enjoyed providing you with my take on various topics, but my favorite part had to be the interviews I had with a handful of Cardinal prospects.

All four of the players I interviewed can be considered top prospects for the organization, yet they were more than happy to help me out with my blog. This speaks volumes about the players that the Cardinals draft. It shows that the organization is not only drafting high quality players, but high quality men as well.

Now that the 2013 minor league regular seasons are over, let’s take a look back at the seasons of the four players that I was lucky enough to interview this summer.

James Ramsey

Photo Credit: Picasa

Photo Credit: Picasa

Final Stat Line: .265 batting average, .373 OBP, 16 doubles, 4 triples, 16 home runs, 51 RBI

In 2013, Ramsey proved that his future is bright for the Cardinals. He started in High-A (Palm Beach), saw the majority of his time in Double-A (Springfield), and even played in a game for Triple-A (Memphis) late in the season. One thing that was a pleasant surprise for me was his power. I always knew he had gap-to-gap power, but I never envisioned him hitting 16 home runs in a season. It will be nice to have a bat with a little bit of pop in the outfield in the future because Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran aren’t getting any younger.

The most incredible statistic for Ramsey in 2013 was his on-base percentage. At .373 and the fact that he drew 51 walks this season, it shows that he has a really good grasp of the strikezone–something fans will enjoy when he gets the call to the big league level. Also, for those wondering, his defense was above-average in center field, and his arm is one of the better outfield arms in the entire organization.

Look for the 2012 first-round draft pick to be playing for the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds next season, and if things go well there, he could see time in the big leagues by the end of 2014.

Link to my article on Ramsey here.
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Jordan Swagerty

Photo Credit: Swagerty's blog

Photo Credit: Swagerty’s blog

Final Stat Line: 0-1, 8.44 ERA, 10.2 innings pitched, 9 strikeouts, 8 walks

Sure, Swagerty’s statistics don’t look very promising, but that is not the most important part of this season for him. The fact of the matter is that a lot of his work was done outside of the game. He had Tommy John surgery on an injured elbow/forearm in 2012, and he spent the majority of the season working his way back into throwing form.

He saw limited game action in July, but the organization wanted to be cautious with their 2010 second-round draft pick. Thus, look for Swagerty, who was considered the Cardinals #7 prospect when healthy, to have a much better 2014 if he is able to fully recover by then. He has the stuff to make the big leagues, it is just a question whether or not his health will cooperate.

Link to my article on Swagerty here.
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Kurt Heyer

Photo Credit: Dennis, Chiefs Photographer

Photo Credit: Dennis, Chiefs Photographer

Final Stat Line: 9-7, 3.41 ERA, 124.0 innings pitched, 96 strikeouts, 34 walks, .258 batting average against

Heyer was probably my favorite prospect to follow this season. He started out with the Peoria Chiefs but was quickly promoted to High-A Palm Beach. Once in High-A, Heyer had some struggles, and the former NCAA Champion (while at the University of Arizona) was not pitching up to his true ability.

Yet, this did not last long. He was able to turn it around–culminating in a 1.47 ERA in 30.2 innings pitched in August. My buddy, @CardinalsFarm, was able to interview with Farm Director, John Vuch, and this is what he had to say, “Heyer has done well as a starter, and I’ve also seen times where his velocity will spike in short bursts, so it’s not far-fetched to also see him being a guy who might throw even harder coming out of the ‘pen.”

Thus, expect to see Heyer start out next season for the Double-A Springfield Cardinals. However, it would not be far-fetched to see him in Triple-A by the end of 2014. Also, depending on needs at the big league level, one cannot predict just when a minor league pitcher might be needed. I’m not saying he will be in the big leagues next season, but the way this season as gone, no one can really be too sure about this (See: Seth Maness, Kevin Siegrist, Keith Butler, etc.)

Link to my article on Heyer here.
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Carson Kelly

Photo Credit: Abby Drey (CDT Photos)

Photo Credit: Abby Drey (CDT Photos)

Final Stat Line: .257 batting average, .322 OBP, 22 doubles, 6 home runs, 45 RBI

Kelly, just 19 years old, started out 2013 on the Peoria Chiefs. He struggled to find his groove there, which is not entirely unexpected considering he was still 18 years old at the time. Thus, the Cardinals assigned him to the Class A Short-Season State College Spikes to finish out 2013.

The 2012 second-round pick took his lackluster performance in Peoria as a learning experience and developed into a more comfortable player for State College. As the season went along, his confidence kept growing as shown by his .301 batting average in July and August.

Kelly, a top third-base prospect, has a bright future, and I could see him starting 2014 back in Peoria or possibly even Palm Beach. Either way, he is still just 19 years old and has plenty of time to develop his skills in the minor leagues. He is a prospect to watch who has that sweet swing that will likely make some noise in St. Louis someday.

Link to my article on Kelly here.
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Lastly, thank you so much to Ramsey, Swagerty, Heyer, and Kelly for answering my questions this season. I look forward to seeing their progress next season as they take the next steps towards St. Louis.

Until next time…

Joe

For more updates, follow me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe

Official member of the STLSportsMinute Network

Q&A with Dan Kantrovitz, Scouting Director of the St. Louis Cardinals

Photo Credit: alivemag.com

Photo Credit: alivemag.com

Quick Bio:

Who is Dan Kantrovitz?

To be frank, Kantrovitz has one of the most important positions for the St. Louis Cardinals, and it does not involve playing on the field. Rather, he is the team’s Scouting Director. In 2012, he was named to the position–replacing Jeff Luhnow who was hired as the general manager for the Houston Astros.

St. Louis is his hometown, and he got his start with the organization as an intern while he was still in school. He played in the Cardinals farm system, but a shoulder injury abruptly ended his playing career. Before getting a job with the Cardinals, he worked for the Oakland Athletics as the international scouting director.

I could provide much more information about Mr. Kantrovitz, but to be honest, I think you all have heard enough from me over the past few months. I was lucky enough to ask him 13 questions, and though extremely busy with the trade deadline and various high school showcases, Mr. Kantrovitz was able to answer every single question thoughtfully and candidly.

Here we go…

stlCupofJoe: How has it been replacing such a well-known, respected person in Jeff Luhnow?
Kantrovitz: I probably underestimated how difficult it was to replace somebody who did as good a job as Jeff. It’s a lot easier to walk into something that is bad and make it better than to take over something that is good and keep it good. But, a big reason I took this job was because of the challenge of this role…I knew it was not an easy situation to walk into. Once people see the results of our recent drafts, I’m hoping Cardinal fans will continue to be excited about our pipeline of prospects and the work of our scouting department.

S: I see that you have a degree from Brown and a statistics master’s from Harvard, how influential have both been in your job as scouting director for the Cardinals?
K: Like most people my age, I’ve probably forgotten a lot of what I learned as an undergrad so I can’t say what I learned at Brown is all that influential at this point in my career. Although, with grad school being more recent and applicable to what I do, I’ve found it to be pretty helpful. Being able to go back and forth with our stat guys in their language can come in handy. Also, having a background in stats enables me to really get into the nitty-gritty of our stat models…and be able to, hopefully, make more informed decisions on draft day. This past year, as the draft was unfolding, I can remember a couple times when Mo and I would leave the draft room and go into his office to call an agent or talk to Mr. DeWitt. And, I would have my laptop open plugging data into various stat models or doing some sort of scenario analysis…things that maybe I would not have been able to do before getting some training in stats.

S: I know that the Cardinals stress advanced analytics when scouting players, but to what degree? Does firsthand scouting of a player still play a key role as a complement to analytics?
K: Without a doubt. You can run a draft without analytics. You can’t run a draft without scouts. That said, I think we leverage scouting analytics as well as anybody.

S: What are some of the major differences in the way you run things compared to the way Jeff Luhnow ran things?
K: I don’t think there are any major differences. We both value the analytical component of evaluating amateur players. We both value the opinion of scouts. And, I think we both subscribe to the school of thought that in order to really understand the amateur market, you need to invest a lot of time and energy out in the field scouting players. The last point is something that, after working under Jeff for 4 years, probably left the most lasting impression on me. I think he gained the respect of “baseball people” by spending countless hours out in the field scouting players, and I think that was vital to his success as a Scouting Director…and I’m sure as a GM too. I try to emulate a lot of the ways in which he approached this job.

S: While in Oakland, what was it like dealing with Billy Beane? Also, do you stay in touch with him at all?
K: Billy is a natural leader who is obviously very smart and just a lot of fun to be around. I definitely stay in touch with all those guys – Billy, David and Farhan. I invested a lot of sweat equity over there and learned a ton from all of them; they are as good as it gets in the baseball business, and it’s not surprising to me at all that Oakland continues to be successful despite limited resources.

S: What is your favorite part of the job? Analyzing the heaps of numbers? Watching players firsthand? Draft Day?
K: Watching players is what this job is all about, and that is what we do all year long but I would have to say draft day is the most exciting. It’s hard to describe the feelings and intensity of it, but just knowing that I’m playing a part in the future success of the Cardinals is very meaningful and fulfilling.

S: Keith Law recently tweeted that Zach Petrick may project as a back-end rotation guy at the big league level? Your thoughts? What is your favorite part about Petrick so far?
K: I hope Keith is right. As a scouting department, we devote a lot of time and effort into procuring the non-drafted free agents. Zach just reached double-A and while exciting, he still has a few more rungs on the ladder to climb. But his success thus far is a source of pride for all of us…scouts, coaches….

S: What does the shortstop position look like down on the farm? Any guys stand out at this point?
K: Quite a few stand out. But a few that people may be less familiar with are 2 we just drafted – Oscar Mercado and Chris Rivera. Mercado has the potential to be really good. We are going to need to be patient, but I would not be surprised to look up in a few years and see that he is a top SS prospect. And with Rivera, he doesn’t get a lot of pub[licity] right now, but his ability to play SS should not be overlooked. He is getting off to a solid start and could be an interesting sleeper. A third player people may not be as familiar with is a guy we just traded for, Juan Herrera. He has some of the best defensive skills in the system and is fun to watch and definitely worth keeping an eye on.

S: What is the organization’s thoughts on Carson Kelly‘s development thus far in pro-ball? After all, he is still just 19 years old.
K: I’m not going to speak for the entire organization but for me, he is pretty special. Give him a couple years, and I think he’ll be on his way to being an impact big leaguer.

S: What’s a regular day in the “office” like for Mr. Kantrovitz, scouting director of the St. Louis Cardinals?
K: You make my job sound a lot more glamorous than it really is! Lots of travel and lots of baseball are really the only 2 constants. But to give you an idea, last week I was with the big league club in Pittsburgh spending the majority of the time holed-up in Mo’s hotel suite discussing various trade scenarios. This week I’m in Syracuse, New York, watching the top high school players in the country play 3 games a day. Next week, I’ll be in California scouting more amateur players. The following week, I’ll be back in the office. One of my favorite things about this job is that there really isn’t a regular day or week.

S: How rewarding is it to see a player you drafted work his way up through the system?
K: I never would’ve imagined that we would have seen one of our 2012 draft picks in the big leagues less than a year after being drafted. When our scouts came in town for the pre-draft meetings this past June, it was pretty special to share the experience of seeing Michael Wacha pitch in Busch Stadium. And just knowing all of the people who contributed to his selection were all there together was really rewarding.

S: How often are you in contact with GM, John Mozeliak? On a daily basis?
K: Yep, daily. If I’m in town, I’m likely in his office a few times a day. If I’m out of town, phone calls or emails are exchanged a few times a day.

S: What is your opinion of the book/movie, Moneyball?
K: My wife and I went to the “red-carpet” premiere which was my first and probably only movie premiere, but how could you not like the movie after attending an event like that! I thought it was pretty cool to introduce my wife to Scott Boras and then turn around and do the same with Bill James. As a Scouting Director, I guess I’m not supposed to be impressed with Scott Boras but needless to say, I was way over my skis in that crowd.

Thus, that concludes the best “interview” I have ever had as a Cardinals blogger. It also probably highlights my blogging career thus far. I cannot thank him enough for his thoroughness in his responses, and it speaks volumes for the Cardinals’ organization as a whole. Luhnow was a great Scouting Director for St. Louis. However, after reading these responses, I am 100% positive the Cardinals are in good hands with Mr. Kantrovitz.

You can follow Mr. Kantrovitz on Twitter by clicking here: @dkantrovitz

Until next time…

Joe

Follow me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe

Official Member of the STLSportsMinute Network

Future of the St. Louis Cardinals: An Interview with Carson Kelly

Photo Credit: milb.com

Photo Credit: milb.com

Background

Carson Kelly is an 18 year old prospect that some scouts project as the St. Louis Cardinals third baseman of the future. He was drafted in the second round of the 2012 MLB draft by St. Louis.

He played his prep ball at Westview High School in Portland, Oregon. After the draft, he was torn between going pro or attending his home-state school, the University of Oregon. Ultimately, he decided on joining the Cardinals organization after agreeing to a $1.6 million signing bonus.

Prior to the draft, ESPN analyst, Keith Law, rated Kelly as the 27th best prospect in the entire draft. Before this season, Baseball America ranked him as the ninth-best prospect in the Cardinals organization.

Skill Set

At Westview HS, Kelly was both a pitcher and a third baseman. He was able to bring it in the low- to mid-nineties from the mound, but in pre-draft workouts, he was seen as such a natural fielder and pure hitter that most scouts projected him as a position player in the future. Thus, the Cardinals decided to draft him as a third baseman.

According to Law’s pre-draft scouting report, Kelly has “strong hands and good swing mechanics” which results in “plus bat speed.” He has a short, line-drive swing as you can see in this amateur video.

Kelly, as a good athlete and former pitcher, has the range and arm strength to be a plus fielder at third base. However, if third base is log-jammed in the future for the Cardinals, his arm and bat could fill in at one of the corner outfield spots as well.

Statistics

2012 at Johnson City (Short-Season Rookie): .225 with nine home runs, 10 doubles, 25 runs batted in, and 24 runs scored in 56 games

2013 at Peoria (A): .219 with two home runs, six doubles, 13 runs batted in, and 18 runs scored in 43 games

2013 at State College (Short-Season A): .228 with one home run, five doubles, 11 runs batted in, and 12 runs scored in 21 games

Analysis

Thus, his statistics may not wow anybody at this point, but one must not forget he is still 18 years old and is in just his first full season of professional baseball. He has such a sweet, compact swing that will lead to high average and gap-to-gap power as he grows and develops as a player. I would not be surprised to his power numbers increase very soon for the State College Spikes as he gets more comfortable with playing at that level.

He is such a highly touted prospect for a reason–he has the skills, just needs to get acclimated to the speed of the professional game. He is a great student of the game who absorbs any baseball knowledge he can get to help improve his overall game.

And now…

The Interview

Me: What was your first thoughts when you found out that the Cardinals drafted you in the 2nd round?
Kelly: My first thoughts were how much of a blessing it was to be drafted by a tremendous organization.

Me: I know you are just a young guy and are experiencing something that not many people get to experience. What is your favorite part of pro ball so far?
Kelly: Getting to play the game I love every single day. Its an awesome feeling going to park knowing you get to have a great time playing baseball

Me: What was the experience like in Peoria this year?
Kelly: My time in Peoria was a good learning experience on what I need to do to stay there. Making adjustments is a big thing. Making adjustments and developing a plan.

Me: What do you consider your biggest strength? I know you have a lot of tools, but what part of your game do you see as your biggest strength?
Kelly: My biggest strength would be my gap to gap power. Staying towards the middle of the field is what helps me stay consistent.

Me:  You’re just an 18 and far away from home, do you ever get homesick and if so, what do you do to help?
Kelly: I do at times but usually a phone call or Skype session with my family always helps cope with that

Me: Is there a current MLB player that you like to model your game after?
Kelly: I would say Evan Longoria because of his body type, and I feel that we have similar actions on the field.

Me: As you said, the Cardinals have a tremendous organization, who has been your favorite(s) to talk to/learn from so far in your pro career?
Kelly: I would say Jon Jay and Daniel Descalso. Those guys gave me some great tips that helped them as they moved up the system.

Me: Last one, what is one goal you want to reach by the end of the season?
Kelly:  A goal of mine is to continue to learn and develop my toolbox (knowledge). Anything else you need feel free to ask.

Until next time…

Joe (@stlCupOfJoe)