Will Kelly be a pitcher or a shortstop? His tremendous athleticism has created enviable dilemmas before. A year ago, Kelly was weighing whether to play quarterback on a full scholarship for the University of Tennessee or sign a contract with the Red Sox, who took him with the 30th overall pick in the First-Year Player Draft.
Kelly admits that the experience he gained from that situation is helping him with his current uncertainty.
"I went through it last year with football," Kelly said before the World Team's 7-5 victory over the U.S. Team on Sunday. "The opportunity came about, and I took it and I don't regret it at all. I think the same thing is going to happen again."
Junichi Tazawa, the other Red Sox prospect chosen for the Futures Game, was supposed to start for the World Team. But those plans were scrapped following a delay of four hours and nine minutes, which started just as Tazawa was about to take the mound for the bottom of the first. Tazawa was relegated to spectator status for the rest of the day.
A right-hander, Kelly came on in the top of the sixth inning for the U.S. Team and retired all three batters he faced, needing just nine pitches.
Kelly's short stint in the Futures Game was his last act as a pitcher for this season. He spent the first half between two Class A stops (Greenville and Salem), going 7-5 with a 2.08 ERA in 17 starts while not spending any time as a shortstop.
Now, it's time for Kelly's position-player side to emerge. He will fly directly from the Futures Game to the Gulf Coast League in Fort Myers, Fla., where he will retransition to shortstop and stay there for the rest of the season.
Once Kelly is done playing for the year, he will meet with Red Sox director of player development Mike Hazen and other members of the team's development staff to determine where to go from there. His future may or may not become definitive by then. When you have an athlete of Kelly's caliber, sometimes the best option is to keep all options open.
"Once we get through this season, we'll decide which side is going to be best for me and best for them," Kelly said. "I'm not sure. I think I'll have to see how everything works out on the shortstop side and what they want to do. It could be this season [a decision is made], but it could be a couple of more. I'm not sure."
Neither side is stressing out about it. It is a good problem to have.
|"I think the determining factor will be what I'm most comfortable with, whatever will get me to the big leagues the fastest. That's the main goal, to get to the big leagues as quick as possible. Whatever position that might be is what I'm going to take."|
|-- Casey Kelly, on his future at pitcher or shortstop|
"We've agreed to sit down at the end of this season, when Casey is done playing this fall, to just talk about it further and have all parties just sit down and assess the '09 season and sort of map out a plan for 2010," said Hazen. "It's going pretty well. Casey has done very well as a pitcher. Obviously, we haven't seen him play as a position player this year, but he's obviously been very impressive as a pitcher during the first half of the season as evidenced by making the Futures Game as a 19-year-old in his first season."
There has been a perception since Kelly was drafted that the Red Sox see him as a pitcher. But Kelly made it clear he has felt no pressure from the organization to wind up as a pitcher.
"It's really weird, because that's what everybody thinks, but talking to them, they like me as a shortstop, too," said Kelly. "They saw me last year and liked what I did. They just want to see me pitch and see how I handle stuff and just kind of see which one they want me to do the best."
Kelly does admit that the other perception -- that he is more of a position player at heart than a pitcher -- has some truth to it.
"Yeah, and that's what I'm going to do the second half of the season, so I'm excited about it," Kelly said. "The pitching side is done after today, so I'm getting excited to play shortstop."
Perhaps the main reason Kelly still feels like a player more than a pitcher at this point is because that's what he has done mainly his whole baseball life. These past couple of months represented the first time in Kelly's career that he wasn't able to play in games between mound stints.
"It was weird, just sitting in the dugout or in the stands and charting and watching your team play, but I think it was the toughest thing for me," said Kelly. "I'm such a competitor and not to be in there every game was tough for me at first. But you get used to it, getting on a five-day routine. I've been doing that since Spring Training, so I've just getting used to that and now I'll get back to playing every day."
What Kelly wants more than simply being a pitcher or a hitter is to be in the Major Leagues, preferably wearing a Red Sox uniform. He will do whatever it takes to get to that point.
"I think the determining factor will be what I'm most comfortable with, whatever will get me to the big leagues the fastest," said Kelly. "That's the main goal, to get to the big leagues as quick as possible. Whatever position that might be is what I'm going to take."
Beyond the numbers, the Red Sox are encouraged by Casey's work from the mound this season.
"He's got a very advanced approach as a pitcher," Hazen said. "He has command of his fastball, which is not easy to say for a 19-year-old. He has genuine, solid, average command right now with two future solid average-to-plus pitches in his curveball and his changeup. He pitches to contact, he's aggressive, he's super efficient. All those things together make for an interesting package."
And on the other side of the ball?
"He's obviously an impressive position player as well," said Hazen. "He was very highly regarded in the Draft as a position player and he's very athletic. He has a great arm, as you can imagine. He has very good hands and has a little bit of pop in the bat. He's pretty impressive on both sides of the ball. We'll see how this all plays out."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.