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How Should Gold Glove Affect Kelly’s Prospect Ranking?

Several related topics have come together today, leading to this post.

First of all, the MLB Futures Game is Sunday evening in San Diego. St. Louis Cardinals catching prospect Carson Kelly is on the US team and pitcher Alex Reyes is on the World roster.

The second item is The Cardinal Nation’s top prospect rankings for July. The June version was abridged, focusing on where to place the 2016 draftees in the top 40 and identifying who would be removed as a result (TCN member article). My current challenge is to assess the July 2nd international signings in the top 40 context, but I will also give a fresh look to the entire relative rankings across the Cardinals system.

(In fact, I should be working on the rankings instead of this, but hey, I am my own boss, and this has my attention currently!)

Finally, Baseball America just published its mid-season top 100 prospects in baseball. Reyes is their top pitcher in all of the minors and second-ranked player overall. Other Cards in the top 100 are pitchers Luke Weaver (75) and Jack Flaherty (88) plus fast-rising outfielder Harrison Bader (89).

Several regulars on The Cardinal Nation message board also think Kelly should be a top 100 prospect nationally. Putting aside whether or not the Cardinals really have that many top prospects, I have a more pressing matter.

In our last monthly rankings, Kelly was 12th in the system. That is way out of line with him potentially being in the top five, as would be needed to sync with the national rankings. Along with the aforementioned four, Kelly is also behind Marco Gonzales, Tim Cooney, Charlie Tilson, Nick Plummer, Edmundo Sosa, Magneuris Sierra and Sam Tuivailala.

I could understand putting Kelly ahead of several of them, but I am far less sure about ALL of them.

Some of the rub is the age-old question of current performance versus future projection. And of course, there is no right or wrong in any of this – just opinion.

One poster, bccran, puts a heavy emphasis on Kelly’s 2015 minor league Gold Glove Award as the top fielding catcher in the minor leagues.

My response to that is the genesis to what follows.

I definitely consider Kelly’s recognition a very positive progress indicator, but I am reluctant to go much further.

I don’t want this to sound like diminishing the accomplishment, but I have always had process questions about MiLB Gold Glove Awards.

While the Major League Baseball GG process uses advanced metrics as a defined part of choosing the annual winners, the MiLB selection process for the nine annual honorees is not disclosed to the public. We not only do not know who is making the choices, we have no idea how they are making them.

Part of the reason the MLB process was changed to specifically include metrics was a general view that voters had made offense the primary criteria for what is supposed to be a defensive award.

For the MiLB GG selectors to do a thorough job, they would have had to see literally hundreds of minor league teams on a regular basis, which is not realistic for anyone – or they would almost have to use metrics to help with the decision. The annual MiLB GG press releases typically cite fielding percentage as the key measure in the winners’ write-ups, which is not all that reassuring to me.

For the record, Kelly stood out with just three errors, for a .994 fielding percentage last season. The 21-year-old has three errors to date in 2016.

The Cards never had a Gold Glove winner in the minors before Kelly, so I do not have any good comparison points. However, Randal Grichuk does have a minor league Gold Glove on his mantle. While the latter is a competent outfielder, I don’t think his defense today is considered MLB Gold Glove caliber. In all fairness, I did not see Grichuk play for Arkansas in 2013 when he won his GG, but I do know he hit a then-career-high 22 homers that year.

Back to catchers. I went back and looked at the prior four MiLB GG catching winners since the award was created in 2011. The first year, the choice was Tucker Barnhart, who is starting in Cincinnati because Devin Mesoraco is injured. 2012 winner Josh Phegley is the back up at Oakland.

Phegley does not have enough work behind the plate to be ranked, but Barnhart appears in the most recent SABR Defensive Index (SDI) results for 2016. The Reds catcher is ranked 11th of 16 NL backstops and is one of six with a negative SDI, at -1.3.

At least so far this season, that 2011 minor league Gold Glove form is not showing through. But it is just one data point.

The 2013 and 2014 catching Gold Glove winners are still in the minors in Taylor Hill and Roberto Pena. I readily admit that I know nothing about either. But it is worth noting that no catcher has yet received the top defensive honor two years in a row.

If Kelly does not win a second Gold Glove Award this year, I will not consider it an indictment of his catching growth. But I am also reluctant to highly emphasize his 2015 win. Too many questions for me.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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12 Responses to “How Should Gold Glove Affect Kelly’s Prospect Ranking?”

  1. crdswmn says:

    Absolutely agree with your points. I have never seen much of Carson’s Kelly’s defense, so I don’t know how he good he is or isn’t. But when the process for choosing minor league GG winners is not open to scrutiny, one has to take it with a grain of salt. I think the major league GG process, even with the addition of metrics, is very flawed.

    The minor league GG won by Grichuk has often been cited in assessing’s Grichuk defense as above average, and by some eager to raise him up, as elite. His defense cannot be accurately assessed at the major league level with the limited amount of major league innings he has. There have been plenty of major league Gold Glove winners that have drawn head scratching and disbelief by many (Derek Jeter, anyone?) and there are plenty very good defensive players who never even sniffed a GG, because, as most of us suspect, they didn’t hit well. Brendan Ryan is a prime example. Several years back he won a Fielding Bible Award for his defense, and was cited by the panel as being the best defensive player in all of baseball. Yet Brendan Ryan never won a GG. I think we know why.

  2. JumboShrimp says:

    kellys honor last season is encouraging in that he is new to catching. He should be good enough to reach the majors, unlike Bryan Anderson.
    This season Kelly has turned a corner by hitting for a respectable average. He has an inside track to Busch.

    • Brian Walton says:

      I get your broad point, but your example is faulty. Anderson played in 40 games in parts of five seasons in the majors, starting with St. Louis in 2010 and as recently as with Oakland at the end of 2015. Hopefully, Kelly can exceed that.

      • JumboShrimp says:

        I see kelly as a 110-125 game per season catcher. Matheny might be a comp.
        Tony Cruz beat out Anderson for the backup role during 2011-15, puting in enough years to obtain a MLB pension. Cruz was the better defender.

  3. JumboShrimp says:

    Kelly elevated to Memphis. Would not be surprised to see him on the ML roster come September.

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