Once a heralded second-round pick out of high school, Carson Kelly struggled during his introduction to pro ball. After switching from third base to catcher, it seems like Kelly will never stop getting better. 

Yadier Molina is a magician behind the plate. This is and will always be true. With that being said, however, at 33 years of age, Molina is not the offensive force that he once was. After hitting .319 in a stellar 2013 campaign, Molina’s offensive production has been steadily declining. While there is in no way a reason to panic, it becomes an intriguing topic to look into what a post-Molina era will look like in St. Louis.

In such a search through the Cardinals farm system, it becomes impossible to ignore Carson Kelly, a 21 year-old catcher for the Springfield Cardinals. Now the best catcher in the system, Kelly has taken an impressive path to his current status.

In 2012, the Cardinals selected Kelly out of Westview High school in Portland, Oregon. At the time, Kelly was thought to be an offensive juggernaut who would produce sufficiently as a third-basemen. After two sub-par seasons in low A, Kelly needed to make some serious adjustments at the plate. Instead, however, during a stint in an instructional lead, the Cardinals organization approached Kelly about the possibility of switching from third-base to catcher. Kelly accepted the challenge.

In his first full season as a catcher in 2014, Kelly focused 100% of his efforts on learning his trade. As such, his offensive numbers continued to plummet during the difficult transition period. During that 2014 season, he only committed nine errors in 79 starts, retiring 33% of attempted base stealers. In 2015, Kelly made substantial improvements to those numbers, committing only 3 errors and throwing out 36% of runners. While he is obviously no Yadier Molina behind the dish, his ability to adapt and thrive is clearly impressive.

In 2016, Kelly has continued to be a solid defensive force behind the plate. Now, however, given his newfound comfort with the nuances of the position, Kelly has become the hitter that the Cardinals hoped for when drafting him in 2012. Specifically, Kelly is hitting .291 with 6 home runs through the first 58 games of the season.

Kelly’s steady improvement as a defender since moving to catcher in 2014 should excited Cardinals fans everywhere. If he can continue to enhance his hitting skills alongside his defense, then he will be the catcher of the future in St. Louis.

Once again, the Cardinals front office has made a savvy position switch to grant a player new-life in his young professional career. With this case specifically, it will be exciting to monitor Kelly’s development, for he could the loss of a first-ballot hall of famer a little more tolerable. With any luck, Cardinals fans will be treated to another wonderful career out of a high-level catcher/hitter combination.

Photo captured by Butch Dill- USA Today Sports