Kelly was born in Chicago but moved after six months to San Diego. He also lived in Toronto for two years.
Carson's dad, Mike, worked for Nike in the Golf Division, for 13 years.
Kelly graduated from Westview High School in Portland, Oregon in 2012, with a commitment to play baseball at the University of Oregon. Carson helped lead the baseball team to it's first Oregon state championship and twice was named the Gatorade Oregon Baseball Player of the Year. But instead, he signed with the Cardinals for $1.6 million, via scout Matt Swanson, after they chose him in the 2nd round in June, 2012.
Carson says he didn't really make any big purchases with his money. But he did make a donation to his high school team, so they could upgrade their batting cages, etc., and "that was very special for me, to do that.. "You know, I will go back there in the offseason and work out, so ... "
Carson played the baritone horn in middle school. "We had to take a music class and pick an instrument, and I wasn't going to be the big guy playing a little flute," Kelly said. "I was like, give me the big baritone thing with three buttons. When I practiced it at home, my dad was like, 'what's dying over there?' I played for about two years."
Kelly said that the best baseball advice he has received: "To be humble and listen. Part of that was from my dad, and also Mark DeJohn (Cardinals' minor league field coordinator) when I got into pro ball. He told me to make sure I listen, sift through the stuff I want and get rid f what I don't need."
Carson says, "I loved playing Whiffle ball (as a kid). My brother and I would play one-on-one, and I'd hit lefthanded because he's younger. I always hit the ball over the house."
- June 2012: The Cardinals chose Kelly in the second round, out of Westview High School in Oregon.
In 2013, the Baseball America Prospect Handbook rated Kelly as the 9th-best prospect in the Cardinals' organization. He was at #11 in the winter before 2014 spring training, and at #13 a year later, in 2015, but was back up to #10 in the spring of 2016. He was up to #4 in the offseason before 2017 spring training. And he got to 3rd-best Cardinals' prospect in the winter before 2018 spring camp opened.
After being dealt to the D'Backs, Carson was listed as their 4th-best prospect in 2019.
In 2015, Carson's younger brother Parker was drafted by the Cardinals. But he didn’t sign, attending the Univ. of Oregon instead.
Carson displays excellent leadership traits and impressive maturity. He works hard at the game.
June 23, 2016: For the first time since he switched positions back in 2014, current Double-A Springfield catcher Carson Kelly was finding himself again in the batter's box. He attributes a better mental approach at the plate to his improved hitting numbers this season, which were enough for a spot on the Texas League North Division All-Star team.
He had his worst hitting season of his Minor League career at Class A Advanced last year in the Florida State League with a career-low .219 average and a career-high 64 strikeouts in 108 games. After moving up to Double-A this season, he has seemingly found his stroke, batting a career-high .294 with a .756 OPS through 57 games. For the Oregon High School Player of the Year in 2011 and 2012, it was only a matter of time before his bat came alive.
"I knew I had it in there, I just had to focus on my catching," Kelly said. "Catching was always No.1 and it still is, but having the hitting come along, it's great to have because ultimately you want to catch and hit."
That's not to say the Cardinals second-round pick in the 2012 MLB Draft isn't working behind the plate. Kelly's range factor per game stands at 8.26, which is .56 lower than 2014, but with eight fewer passed balls. He finally feels like his fundamentals are sound.
"Now it's the thinking about the game," Kelly said. "Who's coming up? Who's on deck? Which pitchers are in the 'pen? What are the matchups? The mental approach is what I'm still trying to figure out and learn. I think there are always learning experiences, and now here in Double-A, now that pitchers hit, there is a little extra thought to it."
He has developed habits such as keeping a daily journal of observances. Little notes about pitchers he has caught, mentality at the plate, hitting, whatever comes to his mind. Kelly's cerebral ways have allowed him to continue his education and play at the same time. He's taking a class this summer, and is 20 to 30 hours away from finishing his economics degree at Oregon State. He has redirected his focus off the diamond, which has helped his performance on it.
"When I was the most stressed in school was actually when I played the best," he said. "It kind of gets you away from baseball so having that focus go somewhere else and then re focus that really helped me and it's what has helped me this season so far." (N Krueger - MLB.com - June 23, 2016)
Kelly’s is a meticulous note-taker. It coincided with the start of his professional career, after his father suggested he document his journey. And it’s drawn praise from Mike Matheny, who often scrawls out his thoughts on baseball and leadership in general.
Actually, Carson's dad, Mike Kelly, lived by the "proverb;" If something's important, write it down. Mike lived it while working at Nike, ad passed the practice on to his coworkers and then his son.
Carson practiced it loosely in high school. But when he was the Cardinals 2nd round pick in 2012, his dad had a small, moleskin-bound notebook ready for him, the same kind he'd used when he was at Nike. And Carson put it to good use while working through the Cardinals' farm system., taking college classes so that he can finish his degree in economics, and shifting from 3rd base to behind the plate in spring, 2014.
Though he won't display the notebook's contents—"Maybe one day I'll open it for everybody, but right now it's going to stay top secret," he jokes.
The notebook's primary purpose, Kelly explains, is to help ensure he's progressing as a player. Sometimes, when analyzing an aspect of his swing or his defense, he'll recall a previous entry on the same topic, and refer to it. Carson believes the notes enable him to better deal with a slump, for example.
December 2016: Kelly was named the Cardinal's minor league "Player of the Year" by the organization.
Jan 3, 2018: Although he's ranked by MLB Pipeline as baseball's No. 2 catching prospect, Carson Kelly once again enters another year unsure of his fit and potential playing time. With Yadier Molina's three-year contract extension kicking in this season, Kelly, 23, projects to back up the veteran catcher just as he did in 2017.
Since 2009, Molina has started an average of 130 games behind the plate each season. No catcher in baseball has carried a heavier load. If Molina were to continue at that pace—and the Cardinals have not indicated an imminent shift—then Kelly's opportunities will continue to be limited.
"It's just another challenge for me, and it's a way for me to grow," Kelly said. "You might not always be a starter. I try to take those opportunities to grow in different ways and help the team when called upon." It was the mental side of the game, Kelly said, that challenged him the most while he adjusted to sporadic playing time in 2017. Staying sharp at the plate has been trying as well.
"Last year 2017, my goal was to really develop a routine and adjust to what my role is and adjust to what the season is like up in the big leagues," Kelly added. "It's completely different from being in Triple-A to here. Just getting acclimated with the speed of the game was a transition."
Kelly has made another transition this offseason by deciding to stick in St. Louis for the winter. The location not only keeps the Oregon native closer to his girlfriend, who lives in Iowa, but it has also allowed him to work out with several familiar faces. He's spent time with Luke Voit, Kolten Wong and even Matt Adams, who returned to the area this offseason even though he's no longer with the Cardinals organization.
Kelly's proximity to Busch Stadium has also afforded him the opportunity for more direct exposure to the Cardinals' strength and conditioning staff.
"It's been great just to get some roots here in St. Louis," Kelly said. "I'm working toward consistency in everything with catching and hitting and finding a way to always be ready when called upon. That's always going to be changing, and I think being here in St. Louis has really helped me in that goal." (J Langosch - MLB.com - Jan 3, 2017)
Carson's makeup and baseball intelligence give him a chance to impact all aspects of the game.
Baseball is an everyday game, but there is still a lot of downtime. Long bus rides in the Minor Leagues, or flights in the big leagues. Dead time between early work and batting practice, between batting practice and the game. That makes it easy for a player to dwell on a bad performance or slump.
To combat that, D-backs catcher Carson got himself educated. After being selected out of high school by the Cardinals, Kelly promised his parents, Traci and Mike, that he would get his college degree. So in the fall of 2012, he began taking online courses at Oregon State University. “The good thing is that the college scholarship program that the Cardinals have paid for it, so I utilized that,” Kelly said.
During Oregon State’s fall and winter semesters, Kelly would take a full load of classes. The winter semester bled into Spring Training, making it a challenge, but Kelly kept pushing. “I kept telling myself, ‘I’m just going to get it done. I’m just going to get it done. Keep going,’” he said.
Knowing that his motivation would be stronger in the beginning, he loaded up with his hardest classes—math and economics—early, figuring that he could finish the easier classes later. In some ways, the challenge of school helped him clear his mind from baseball and, he believes, allowed him to perform better.
“Because sometimes you can get pretty clouded during such a long season,” Kelly said. “It was kind of a nice little break from baseball. If it’s an off-day, it gives you something to do, because some off-days you just sleep all day because you’re tired. But for me, I would know that I had to do my homework. It allowed me to switch mentally. When I was in high school, I always thought I played better when I had harder classes because it was a good change. It helped me to refocus, and that’s something that I believe in now. You have to find a hobby. Because if all you’re doing is working all the time, it’s not good. There needs to be a break at some point.”
Kelly completed his degree in economics in the spring of 2018. There was just one problem when it came to picking up his degree—he was busy playing baseball. So, in his place he sent Traci and Mike.
“They basically went to graduation for me,” he said. “They picked it up for me, and my mom started breaking down a little bit because it was something she always wanted me to do. That was really cool.”
Now that school is done with, Kelly has found a new passion to keep him from thinking too much about baseball when he’s away from the ballpark.
“Now I read,” he said. “So I’m taking time to read, whatever it might be. I’m on the Harry Potter series right now. Sounds a little weird, I know, but I never read it as a kid. But it’s a good change for me to refocus from baseball. You have to find ways to not dwell on your last game. So, reading, going out and playing golf, finding a hobby, I don’t know—needlepoint—whatever it is, everybody has to have something to refocus.” (Gilbert - mlb.com - 3/21/19)
Carson talked about playing with Yadi Molina during 2019 spring training with the D'Backs.
"It's kind of unique because I got to see him on a day-to-day basis and see how he goes about his business and how he prepares for a game. I've gone to five Spring Trainings with him, so I've got to see first-hand the work ethic and what it takes to be a Gold Glove catcher and the leader of a team. I've just taken that stuff to heart."
Oct 25, 2019: You can break Carson Kelly’s first season with the D-backs into three parts.
–The first ran from Opening Day until May 3, when Kelly hit .182 with a .520 OPS.
–On May 4, Kelly hit his first Major League homer, and it ignited a tear that saw him post a .298/.403/.640 slash line from that point until Aug. 12.
–The third part ran from Aug. 14 until the end, when he hit .173/.309/.235.
Kelly, 25, was acquired by the D-backs as part of the trade that sent star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt to St. Louis. The 2019 season was Kelly's first real crack at regular playing time in the big leagues after being stuck behind Cardinals stalwart Yadier Molina.
“I think at the beginning of the year, it was to get acclimated with this team, see what kind of role I would have and be ready for whatever was thrown at me,” Kelly said. “Middle of the year, I started playing better and playing well, then I kind of hit a little lull.”
What went right?
Lots. The D-backs were thrilled with the way Kelly performed both behind and at the plate.
The organization asks a lot of its catchers in terms of game planning and the like. It was a lot to throw at a rookie, but Kelly handled it so well that in late May, the D-backs abandoned the three-catcher alignment they had used the previous two seasons in order to get Kelly more playing time.
Kelly ranked high in catcher framing, as he converted 52.2 percent of non-swing pitches into called strikes in the "shadow zone"—pitches that are within one baseball's width of the edges of the strike zone—tying him for seventh best in baseball.
One of Kelly's best moments of the year came on Aug. 9 at Dodger Stadium.
The D-backs trailed the Dodgers, 2-0, heading into the ninth when Kelly hit a game-tying two-run homer off closer Kenley Jansen to send the game to extra innings. Then Kelly won it in the 11th with a homer off Julio Urias.
What went wrong
The last month and a half of the season was a struggle for Kelly, and figuring out how to avoid that next year is important.
“I think that’s one of the goals I have going into next year, is to find ways to cope with making those longer [slumps] shorter,” he said.
A big reason for the drop-off, the D-backs feel, was simply a player experiencing his first full season in the big leagues.
“We put a lot on his plate,” manager Torey Lovullo said.
- May 9, 2020: Carson Kelly on his mom, Traci, on Mothers Day:
“My dad was working with Nike, so it was Mom who was the trooper. She would take us on all of our trips if we were playing travel ball. She would sacrifice so much just to give us the best opportunity to play—make sure that we were fed and had our Capri Sun’s and our orange slices. I mean she was always prepared and always on top of it. She was always there and she still reminds me to this day, ‘Hey, I’m always here for you.’
She would take me to school early in the morning for practice and then we had a facility in Vancouver, Wash. that was probably a 45-minute drive from our house. And after practice for the school team, which probably lasted until like 6:00 p.m., she would pick me up and take me up there where we would practice for another few hours and then it’s like 10:00 p.m. So, she was going from 5:30 in the morning to 10 at night, making sure I was where I needed to be and had what I needed. It’s something that I can never repay her for. I love her so much for doing all that and being my biggest supporter.”
In 2019, his first year with Arizona, Kelly had a great deal of success. Originally part of a three catcher system and getting sporadic playing time in the early part of the season, he started to hit and wrestled most of the PA’s his way by mid-season. He peaked on August 12, 2019 when his batting line reached .270/.362/.562, .924 OPS with 17 HR and 42 RBI, and 32 walks vs. 51 K’s in 268 PA.
However perhaps due to fatigue playing his first full season, or perhaps due to the league making adjustments to him, he slumped badly over the final six weeks of the season to end up .245/.348/.478 , .826 OPS, homering just one more time to finish with 18. Still it was a successful season all around for Kelly. He posted a 111 OPS+, and 1.7 WAR in 111 games, threw out 15 of 47 baserunners, (32%) , and registered +5 runs in Statcast’s Pitch Framing Metric.
The team decided to sign left handed hitting veteran backup Stephen Vogt to pair with Kelly in 2020, and finally abandon the three catcher system. Kelly was slated to be the starter and depended on heavily in 2020 with the expectation of further growth and possibly even developing into a star. (Jack Sommers - Dec 15, 2020)
June 2012: The Cardinals chose Kelly in the second round, out of Westview High School in Oregon.
December 5, 2018: The Cardinals sent RHP Luke Weaver, Top 50 MLB prospect C Carson Kelly, INF Andy Young and their 2019 Competitive Balance Round B Pick to the Diamondbacks; acquiring 1B Paul Goldschmidt.
- Jan 15, 2021: Kelly and the D-back avoided arbitration, agreeing to a one-year deal for $1.7 million.