Casey Kelly commits to pitching.

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  1. The Intimidator

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    Red Sox prospect Casey Kelly, after completing a first professional season that was described by GM Theo Epstein as “unique” as he split his time between pitching and playing shortstop, informed the Sox on Monday that he intended to commit to a career as a pitcher going forward. He forged a 2.08 ERA while splitting the year between Low A Greenville and High A Salem before he commenced a partial season as a shortstop in the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League and Single A Greenville (combined .222/.302/.340/.642) and the Arizona Fall League.

    Kelly made his decision after a meeting with Red Sox officials last week. Kelly, along with his father, Pat, and two of his agents, met in Fort Myers with Epstein, farm director Mike Hazen, former Lowell Spinners manager (and current roving infield instructor) Gary DiSarcina. The Sox tried to give Kelly a sense of how they regarded him as a pitcher, but the organization also wanted to be mindful of the 20-year-old’s preference. Ultimately, Kelly - a first-round pick in 2008 who signed for a $3 million bonus - agreed with the Sox that his best chance to make an impact was as a pitcher.

    Kelly will take part in the Red Sox’ Rookie Development Program in January, and will receive an invitation to big-league camp in spring training. That invitation reflects how close he could be to the majors, with Epstein estimating that he could be knocking on the door to the majors in the next year or two.

    “He’s as excited about his future on the mound as we are,” said Epstein. “I don’t think you could ever expect a 19-year-old pitcher to go out and do what he did. It’s a pretty impressive debut.

    “I think he sees he’s relatively close to the big leagues, certainly for his age, and has a chance to make an impact in this organization. … Maybe he agreed with us in the end that this was his chance to make the most profound impact on the organization.”

    Kelly features an impressive arsenal: a two- and four-seam fastball, changeup and curve, all of which project as potentially plus pitches by the time he is ready for the majors. He also has the ability, Epstein suggested, to add a slider. He has advanced command of all of the pitches, and even though he is relatively inexperienced, the Sox GM noted that he “looked like a big-league pitcher” at times during his 95-inning professional unveiling.

    Despite his limited time on the mound in 2009, some officials believe that Kelly could start the year in Double A Portland.

    Had Kelly told the organization that he continued to see himself as a shortstop, the Sox would have accommodated him, but they would have continued to structure his player development along the lines of what they did this year, with the player splitting time between pitching and the field. The team would have wanted to leave the door open to Kelly committing to pitching, but continuing the split-season approach might have ultimately delayed his development in one or both areas. Thus, it comes as little surprise that the Sox were, in Epstein’s words, “glad it turned out this way.”

    According to Epstein, that sentiment was shared by Kelly. Now that he is committed to just one career path, rather than two, the prospect can limit some of the distractions that he faced at the start of his career, and instead proceed with greater clarity about his future.

    “I think it was a burden on Casey to do both,” Epstein said. “He didn’t want any of the extra attention. That’s not his personality. He’s very at ease with himself, but it’s hard to answer the same question 10 times everyday, especially when you’re not sure what you want to do. When he called me a couple days ago, he said and sounded like the weight of the world was off his shoulders. He was really excited to choose one path and dedicate himself to it, something that can make him even better, because now he has a sole focus.”

    Boston Globe

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