Arizona Diamondbacks catcher Carson Kelly got off to a red-hot start in 2021 before injuries derailed his season outlook.
Through the first 28 games of the season, he hit .338/.491/.613 and had six homeruns with more walks than he had strikeouts. He was also leading the National League in bWAR at 2.1.
He was gaining ample momentum toward earning his first All-Star nod.
On May 13, 2021, Kelly fouled a ball off his foot and landed on the injured list with a tuft fracture in his left big toe.
He returned just 10 days later and hit .171 with two home runs and a 5-to-22 walk-to-strikeout ratio from May 25, 2021, to June 19, 2021.
On June 19, he was hit by a pitch and fractured his wrist. He was out for a month.
When he returned, he finished the final 48 games of the season hitting .221/.297/.364 with five home runs.
While injuries told the story of Kelly’s 2021 season, he spent the offseason recovering and setting himself up to not allow 2022 to be dictated by the same fate.
“You never want to get hurt and mine were little weird injuries,” Kelly said. “Breaking bones are sometimes things that are out of your control, but going into the offseason, it was a lot about recovery for me and putting myself in the best position to succeed and the key to that is really taking care of myself. I think that I put in during the offseason and the team we have here on the medical side, that I’m going to be in a really, really good spot.”
Through the expanded offseason due to the lockout, Kelly stayed ready. There worked on getting a little better in everything that he does.
“For me, it was really just simplifying things,” he said.
“Last year, there was a lot going on. This offseason, I was really trying to simplify my swing, simplify mechanics catching and calling a game. Overall, just going through every aspect of my game and how I can be a little bit better every single day and help this team win.”
Coming into Spring Training after owners and players agreed on a collective bargaining agreement seemingly at the death, Kelly received a lot of attention from outlets and he landed in a lot of “Top 10” lists at the catcher position.
“It’s great,” Kelly recalled. “It’s something that is a lot of hard work, but there’s more work to be done. I’m thankful for it, but I try not to dive into too many things like that. I’m going to continue to keep working and that’s my mindset this year is continue to evolve, continue to grow, step outside of my comfort zone a little bit because it could be very, very beneficial for me. I’m thankful for that, but there’s a lot to be done.”
With the lockout cutting the Spring Training season nearly in half, Kelly said days throughout the course of camp were a little bit longer than past seasons to make up for lost time.
He admitted Spring Training was “different,” but he said he believed it will pay off.
The Diamondbacks signed veteran relief pitchers Mark Melancon and Ian Kennedy in the offseason to shore up the backend of the team’s bullpen.
In addition, Brent Strom was brought in to serve as the team’s pitching coach. Strom and Kelly known each other from the catcher’s time in the St. Louis Cardinals minor-league system where Strom was the pitching coordinator.
“Our staff is pretty solid, and I think getting Brent Strom is going to be a big help for this team. A lot of it is identifying what guys do well and how we can continue to keep doing that. I’m looking forward to seeing what we’ve got.”
Past this season, Kelly said the organization and clubhouse are excited about the direction the team is heading. Mlb.com has the Diamondbacks ranked as the fourth-best farm system.
“You see it with the guys that come up,” Kelly said. “We have a lot of great guys down there and a lot of great arms as well. We have a lot of guys that are going to help this team down the road, but it’s great to see them get some exposure at the big-league level and I look forward to seeing them progress and help us win a World Series one day.”
While Kelly said he feels the team is in a good spot to compete this season, he also feels like he is ready to take his game up a notch in 2022.
He is looking forward to contributing to a full 162-game season and will apply his offseason mindset.
“You’re always learning, you’re always evolving in the game,” Kelly said. “Every single day is an opportunity to get a little bit better. There may be some growing pains in that, but that’s why we have Spring Training. We do a lot of work to expedite that. Little by little, it’ll get to being a well-rounded thing.
“I’m excited to get it going this season. I think we have a really good chance with this club, and I think we’re going to be in a good spot.”