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Juan Kelly Willing to Do It All

Juan Kelly excels at catching, first base and hitting

Juan Kelly Willing to Do It All

October 13, 2015

Playing multiple positions can be a real asset for a baseball player. This concept especially hits home with minor leaguers trying to reach their dream of one day playing in the big leagues. The more flexibility a player has the better chance they’ll see the field in some capacity at each level of play.

With a long history of developing their players to fit this mold, the Toronto Blue Jays have a lot of quality guys in their system performing in this kind of role. That said — there are not as many as intriguing as Juan Kelly.

While Kelly might not be a household name amongst Blue Jays fans, there is tremendous talent within the Dominican Republic native. With the ability to play three positions very well, the 21-year-old prospect has continued to push forward since signing with the organization back in 2012. This past season he played catcher, first base and designated hitter.

“I really enjoy playing multiple positions,” revealed Kelly. “It breaks up the monotony of playing in one spot all the time. I have days where the team has me catch a game and then the next day they ask me to play first base. I really like that aspect of my game.”

The prospect made it as high as the Lansing Lugnuts during his 2015 campaign and he did nothing but impress in his 17 contests with the Blue Jays low-A affiliate. While in Lansing, Kelly served as a backup catcher and a reserve first baseman.

Sporting a flawless fielding percentage while playing in the Midwest League; Kelly logged 89 1/3 innings behind the dish where he assisted on nine plays, while logging an additional 36 1/3 innings at first where he took part in two double plays for the Lugnuts.

Another promising sign was his play at the plate in his brief time in the Midwest League. Recording 18 hits in 63 at-bats, Kelly notched seven doubles and three home runs, while carrying an impressive .286/.366/.540 slash line.

Obviously those numbers are a little bit higher due to the small sample size, but there’s no denying that the 21-year old utility player made the most of his opportunity with the Lugnuts.

Spending the majority of his season with the Vancouver Canadians, Kelly didn’t enjoy the same amount of success. But the young prospect did develop his game in the right areas and has made a serious push for more playing time in the future.

A major difference between the two levels was the power that Kelly displayed. Only recording five extra base hits in Vancouver, including four doubles and a home run; the prospect’s slugging percentage was drastically lower, sitting in at .286 in the Northwest League.

But a promising sign was Kelly’s .336 OBP. Finding a way on base has never been an issue for the Dominican Republic native who has a career OBP of .358 after four seasons of professional baseball that dates back to him playing in the Dominican Summer League.

His increased play in the Northwest League was also a better indicator of Kelly’s defensive play. Seeing more time at first in Vancouver Kelly carried a .983 fielding percentage, while taking part in 21 double plays and assisting on another nine. Getting behind the dish in just four contests with the C’s Kelly committed one error on 28 chances, while assisting on five plays.

Familiarity with his hitting coach Kenny Graham really helped Kelly transition levels when he made the jump from Vancouver. The two also worked together in 2014 in the Gulf Coast League as Graham served as the prospect’s skipper.

“I really like working with Kenny Graham,” said Kelly. “Kenny is a hard worker that’s always making sure you’re getting the most out of your at-bats.”

Kelly’s emergence has really caught the eye of the Toronto Blue Jays coaching staff as they invited the up-and-coming prospect to their annual instructional league. Getting to spend some additional time working with all the coaches in the organization this fall will help Kelly prepare to build off the success he had in 2015.

Toronto Blue Jays scouts first noticed the prospect when he was just 17-years old playing in the Dominican Republic. Impressed with the raw talent they saw from Kelly, the organization quickly offered the young player an international free agent deal.

“Getting an opportunity to sign with the Toronto Blue Jays felt great,” said Kelly. “It was something I worked really hard to achieve. It felt great knowing I was going to have an opportunity to play professional baseball.”

Kelly was inspired to pursue baseball by his father who is a former player himself. While his father didn’t enjoy quite the same success as his son, the elder Kelly put all his knowledge of the game into Juan and it’s starting to pay dividends right now.

“My dad didn’t make it professionally,” said Kelly. “I’m the first member of my family to play professionally. But my dad taught me a lot about the game and he currently gives lessons to kids. I also work with him when I’m home. I think the kids get a kick out of learning from a guy in pro ball.”

Most likely returning to Lansing to kick off his 2016 season, Kelly could see a promotion to the Advanced-A Dunedin Blue Jays before the conclusion of the year.

No matter the destination Blue Jays fans will want to keep their eye on Juan Kelly as he continues to be an excellent utility option in the system for years to come.