Kelly soaking in camp experience

Kelly soaking in camp experience

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- He is only 20 years old, has never pitched above Class A and is in Major League camp for the first time. Yet there is an unflappable feel to Casey Kelly, who is widely regarded as the best pitching prospect in the Red Sox's farm system.

His eyes aren't wide at the experience, but that in no way comes across as cockiness. Instead, it is a self-assured confidence that Kelly carries with him.

Pitching on Field 3 on Friday morning, Kelly threw batting practice for the first time in camp. Despite the presence of general manager Theo Epstein and pitching coach John Farrell, the righty didn't reach back for anything extra to try to make a statement. Instead, he got his work in, taking another step in a developmental process that could have him pitching at Fenway Park within a couple of years.

"Just watching how [Jon] Lester and [Josh] Beckett threw theirs today, guys hit it off them, and they threw the next ball and moved on," said Kelly. "They're just trying to get their work in and not worried about what the hitters are doing."

When there was a ball hit into the gap, Kelly didn't shrug his shoulders. When he blew a fastball by somebody, he didn't strut around.

"It speaks to his poise and having an understanding of the purpose of batting practice," said Farrell. "It's a chance for all of our pitchers to go out and use all of their pitch mix, to induce contact, which he did. But you're right, there was really no reaction or response when either he made a good pitch or someone took a good swing against him."

Kelly admits to being awed very briefly when he first arrived at camp.

"The first couple of days, I walked in here and I was pinching myself to make sure, 'Is this real? Is this still happening?'" said Kelly. "Now it's just kind of a feeling that you're just kind of one of the players now and trying to get better, and I watch how these guys go about their business and how they work. That's definitely going to help me throughout the season."

Perhaps his nickname for this particular Spring Training should be "The Sponge." He doesn't pepper Beckett, Lester and John Lackey with questions, but he sure does observe and absorb their daily activities.

"I've just tried to watch what they do and how they go about their business," Kelly said. "They all joke around, but at the same time, when it's time to get serious, they get serious and get their work done. I'm just watching them and listening to what they say when they're in their [bullpen sessions] or how they feel, and that kind of thing is definitely helping me."

Kelly wants to be them one day, He makes no secret of that. And his commitment to that end became clear back in December, when he officially gave up his dreams of being a shortstop by agreeing with the Red Sox that he would focus only on pitching.

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Inevitably, Kelly will be assigned to a Minor League affiliate in the next few weeks, possibly Double-A Portland. Until then, he will spend many of his spare moments keeping an eye on the Beckett-Lester-Lackey trio.

"Watching them throw their 'pens and do all their conditioning and stuff -- one day that's where I want to be," Kelly said. "I want to be one of those guys, a top-of-the-rotation pitcher. Those three are some of the best in the Major Leagues. That's the point of my career that I want to get to, and I think it's really beneficial for me to be here right now."

If Kelly acts like he has been in a Major League clubhouse before, it's because he has. His father is former Major League player and longtime coach Pat Kelly.

"In Spring Training, when my dad was with the Braves, [Greg] Maddux was there and Tom Glavine and John Smoltz," Kelly said. "Just being around the clubhouse and walking around and seeing those guys, it kind of made it a little easier coming through here. The first couple of days, I was still a little nervous, still a little hesitant. Once you get on that field, everything kind of goes out the window and you're competing with the guys. Once you get on the field, kind of all those worries and nerves get out of your stomach."

The Red Sox have had a string of pitching prospects come through their ranks the past few years and go on to achieve success, including Jonathan Papelbon, Lester, Justin Masterson (now with the Indians) and Daniel Bard. They all had their first camps, like Kelly is experiencing now.

"We were actually talking about that today standing at second base during BP, saying it will be fun to show up two years from now and imagine what this kid will be," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona.

While Kelly is still growing into what he will become as a pitcher, he seems to be at a highly advanced stage from a maturity standpoint.

"When you talk to him, he seems to get it," said Francona. "He's very young and he doesn't give you youthful answers. He's very poised. He asks good questions. There's a reason that the organization is very excited about his future. There's a lot of reasons why. It's not just a big arm. It's got to be more than that."

Though there is a natural tendency for young pitchers to light up the radar gun, Kelly never seems driven by that.

"He pitches with a controlled effort, but it's not like he's not trying," said Farrell. "He repeats his delivery and stays in delivery. And even knowing today that with the amount of effort that was in there, we know there's a lot more in there, and that will come out in time as we get closer to games and into game activity."

Yes, the next step for Kelly will be the opportunity to pitch for the Red Sox in a Grapefruit League game.

"That's going to be incredible," said Kelly. "Just to be able to have some of the guys on defense playing behind me, it's going to definitely be an honor to be on the mound with them and share the same field with them. But once you get on the field, everybody is the same. You want to go in there and compete and show what you can do."

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.