Earlier this offseason, Red Sox starting pitcher Joe Kelly made waves when he predicted himself as the winner of the 2015 Cy Young Award. That appeared to be additional evidence of Kelly, a self-proclaimed prankster, having some fun with the media. However, if his live BP session of the year is any indication, Kelly’s prediction may not be too far off the mark.
Yesterday, the Red Sox had their first true live BP sessions and, while those sessions produced some entertainment value in the form of a Pablo Sandoval bomb off Justin Masterson, Kelly was the day’s real story.
Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli, in particular, had some encouraging words on Kelly’s performance.
"He’s around the plate, throwing strikes, good curveball and slider. I know it’s still early, but he looked really good today. I’ve faced him before during the year. I know what the stuff’s like. He’s just got good arm action, ball comes out of his hand well. He’s good. The ball moves all over the place. He’s just ahead of everyone else right now.He has a really good fastball. He just needs to be able to locate it. He’s got a good curveball and changeup. Of the five starters, he might have the best stuff of everybody. He’s just got to put it together."
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Kelly came to Boston alongside Allen Craig by way of the John Lackey trade last July and the 26-year old will be gunning for a breakout year in his first full season with the Red Sox. He is coming off a season in which he posted a 4.20 ERA with 6.2 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9 in 17 starts between St. Louis and Boston. Despite those mediocre numbers, though, Kelly has shown flashes of brilliance in the past and his excellent stuff suggests that he has high-end potential.
Throughout his career, Kelly has achieved a 52.4% ground ball rate through extensive use of his heavy sinker, which he can throw into the upper 90’s. His major issue in the past has been with limiting free passes as he has a career walk rate of 3.5 BB/9 and had the highest such rate of his career last season despite a relatively low strikeout rate. That’s why this news from Red Sox camp is so encouraging, as Napoli emphasized that Kelly was throwing strikes yesterday.
Of course, this was only the first live BP session of the season and it would be foolish to have any major takeaways. However, if Kelly is able to build upon this performance, channeling his excellent stuff while keeping the ball around the strike zone, he could be in for a big year. Given his youth and high ceiling, Kelly will be one of the more interesting pitchers to watch this season and we’ll get our first glimpse of him in Boston’s Grapefruit League opener on Thursday.