ORIGINAL ARTICLE LINK: Carson Kelly doing it on the mound, at the plate
Carson Kelly realized he could hit when he smashed 18 home runs as a seventh grader.
“That’s when I realized it was serious, so I started making plans,” said Kelly, the leading hitter and pitcher for Westview (Portland, Ore.), Oregon’s No. 1 ranked 6A team. “Dad’s a process guy, so I became a process guy.”
For dad Mike, however, the “process” might have started a dozen years earlier.
“We do have pictures of me in my crib with a baseball bat,” said Kelly, Oregon’s 2011 Gatorade Player of the Year.
That seventh-grade summer was also the first time Westview coach Steve Antich saw Kelly up close.
“He came to one of our school camps and held his own against varsity-level players,” said Antich. “Actually, he was better than some of them. He grabbed my attention early on.”
That might have been Antich’s “awe” moment about Kelly. Since then, he has seen the 6-foot-2, 215-pounder earn all-league honors at first base, third base and shortstop.
Antich watched Kelly bat .473 with 14 home runs and 51 RBIs as Westview won its first state title and finished the season 27-5. Kelly also dominated on the mound, going 9-1 with a 1.64 ERA and 71 strikeouts in 64 innings. He was named Oregon’s 6A State Player of the Year, and missed a perfect game once by just one pitch.
Kelly said he actually has had two “awe” moments in his youthful baseball career. The first was making the Westview varsity team as a 14-year-old freshman. The second came when he made the Under-16 USA National Team.
“Making my first USA team was incredible,” said Kelly, the son of Mike and Traci Kelly. “Just seeing all the competition around the country. I can only describe it as an unbelievable experience. I feel really blessed. It was just the opportunity of a lifetime.”
Kelly said it was a great learning experience, both on the field and off.
“It let me know just how strong the competition is around the world,” said Kelly. “Teams from Venezuela, Canada and Mexico were terrific. Just seeing their level of competition and passion for the game was awe-inspiring. Being able to see the culture of other areas was very humbling. They work very hard for their passion.”
As does Kelly.
Kelly was a three-sport athlete in eighth grade, but when he reached high school, he set his goal on making varsity as a freshman. He was first team All-Metro League that year and Westview won its first of three straight Metro League titles.
He has hitting coaches, a pitching coach and a conditioning coach. He works hard and works often to get better.
He began his hitting routine as a freshman and has been diligent about it almost daily since. Hitting off a batting tee and soft toss are key components. He usually takes 30-45 swings each working with a skinny bat, a bat with a weighted handle (to drive down), then 30-45 swings with front toss with different bats. He follows that with three-to-four rounds of live pitching (another 40-50 pitches). Often, he does his hitting routine twice a day.
That might be a bit much for most, but for Kelly it is the way he lives his life.
“It’s in my blood,” said Kelly. “It keeps me on track, keeps me focused. I always want to get better, so I keep working and keep processing.”
Kelly says he is a student of life, as well as baseball.
“I’ve been working hard on my mental game,” he said. “Pretty soon, I will be on my own with either college or professional baseball. I need to be prepared.
“Once you get to a certain level, they (players) are all the same, but the mental side is what separates the good players and the great players. Big difference between high school and college and professional baseball.”
Needless to say, many are in “awe” of what Kelly can do on a baseball field. He has signed to play baseball at the University of Oregon, and most Westview games will usually have a dozen or so professional scouts at each game, home and away.
Last Tuesday, Westview played rival Jesuit with an estimated 18 pro scouts in the stands. Kelly didn’t disappoint, as he pitched a 5-hit shutout, and drove in the game’s only run as Westview won 1-0. Kelly needed just 72 pitches (56 strikes) in blanking the usually hot-hitting Crusaders.
“Carson did everything he could to will us to a win,” said Antich. “He knew the margin for error was minimal and runs were going to be at a premium as he was facing one of the best pitchers in the state. That said, he did a great job of limiting them. That ultimately gave us the opportunity to scratch across a run and close it out down the stretch.”
With two out in the sixth inning and teammate Ray Ayo on second, Kelly was down 1-2 in the count, but was able to scratch out the hit to score what ended up being the winning run.
“It’s said that special players make special plays and that’s what he did,” said Antich.
After the victory, Kelly complimented his team for its defense and timely hitting. He never mentioned his exploits.
“He’s just a very humble kid,” said Antich. “When he made his first USA National Team, he didn’t tell his teammates, he told his family and coaches.”
Kelly describes it as a value he’s learned from his family.
“I’m a family guy and we just like to keep things on the down-low, but I understand being noticed is just part of the process,” said Kelly, who added he tries to keep most of his workouts private.
Oregon hasn’t had a high school player selected in the first round of the Major League Baseball draft since Grants Pass lefthander Matt Smith went 16th overall to the Kansas City Royals in 1994. Kelly isn’t projected to go that high, but he’s likely to be the highest Oregon high schooler drafted since Medford righthander Steve Bechler went in the third round to the Baltimore Orioles in 1998.
The question is whether he will pitch or hit at the next level. Oregon wants him to do both and pro scouts are saying he is likely to hit.
However, his fastball is consistently 91-92 mph and he has clocked 97 in practice. Toss in a 73 mph changeup, an upper 70s curve and pinpoint control, a pitching career is certainly not out of the question.
If Kelly had his preference, he’d hit. However, he is equally successful on the mound or in the field, regardless of the stage.
Kelly was a key player for Team USA in the Pan American Championships in Colombia. The team, coached by Linfield College coach Scott Brosius, went 9-0 to win the championship with Kelly the winning pitcher over Canada in the gold medal game. He also went 3-for-3 with a double and two RBIs.
For the tournament, Kelly went 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA. In 14 innings, he allowed nine hits, struck out 12 and walked one. Playing third base, first base and designated hitter, he batted .286 (6-for-21) with two doubles and four RBIs.
Though he has signed to play at Oregon, the ultimate question is always asked: what if professional baseball has a big offer following the MLB Draft, June 4-6. Will he forego college?
“I’ve talked to my family about this and if an opportunity presents itself for professional baseball, we’ll really look at it and see what the pros and cons are. I’m looking forward to the draft,” he said.
But for now, Kelly is looking at the tasks at hand: winning a fourth-straight Metro League title and back-to-back 6A Oregon championships.
It’s just part of the process.
Filed under: 2012: USA High School Player Updates