For the first time since he switched positions two seasons ago, current Double-A Springfield catcher Carson Kelly is 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."
Nick Krueger is a reporter for MLB.com based in St. Louis. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.