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Carson Kelly has started only seven games since joining the Cardinals on July 21 from Memphis but has used his time in the big leagues to learn from Yadier Molina and others.

By Rob Rains

Much has been written, and deservedly so, about all the contributions young players coming up from Triple A Memphis have made to the Cardinals so far this season.

Paul DeJong has been joined by Luke Weaver, Harrison Bader, John Brebbia and others in keeping the Cardinals’ playoff hopes alive when veterans either have been hurt or haven’t played well.

Another young player, however, has done a lot more watching since joining the Cardinals in late July instead of being given a chance to add his name to the list of contributors – despite the fact he is considered one of the top prospects in the organization and perhaps the best catching prospect in all of baseball.

Carson Kelly’s start Wednesday night in San Diego was only his seventh start since he was called up on July 21. Two of those came when Yadier Molina was in the original lineup but was scratched just before game time. Kelly also has come into 11 games in the late innings, picking up another 20 innings of experience behind the plate.

Despite the fact he has had such limited game action, however, the 23-year-old Kelly said he has benefited from being in the major leagues and that he doesn’t believe the lack of playing time has hindered his development.

A student of the game – as well as a real student, getting closer to completing his degree in economics from Oregon State – Kelly has used his time watching wisely.

“I make sure I get my work in in the bullpen,” Kelly said. “I block almost every day, I throw every day, I get my hitting in in the cages and during BP. You can learn a lot by just watching. I will get my experience when I get opportunities and I will make the most of them.”

Even before he moved from third base to catching in 2014, Kelly had a habit of taking notes about what he learned that day, something his father suggested. He has continued that practice and does it even on days when he doesn’t play.

“Tons of notes,” Kelly said about his major-league experiences. “I always come away each day with something new. That’s a good thing, and I apply that and reflect on that as I go through my notes.”

Whether he is in the dugout or bullpen, Kelly always is peppering his older teammates with questions.

“Trying to build my knowledge and I also know it helps when everybody is open to helping and giving you information,” Kelly said. “It’s been tremendous. Watching and working up here with the coaching staff and players, everybody’s got a lot of insight. It’s the highest level for a reason. Being able to pick these guys’ brains has been great for my development.”

On the occasions he has had to play, Kelly often will find himself thinking about something he has written down in his notebook, either something which occurred in a previous game or something he observed or learned through a conversation.

“It happens all the time,” he said. “You learn by making mistakes and if I made a mistake then it pops in your head almost immediately. That’s sometimes how I work. If I did something wrong I am going to make sure I do something to correct it the next time.”

Kelly likely will not get a lot more opportunities the rest of this season, as Molina wants to play virtually every game and has had a solid season.

What will be interesting, however, is what happens with Kelly’s playing time next season – and beyond. Molina’s contract extension, agreed to right at the start of the season, binds him to the Cardinals through the 2020 season.

Kelly can only learn so much sitting and watching – at some point he is going to have to receive more playing time. There is no doubt the lack of playing time since joining the Cardinals is the biggest reason for his lack of offensive success, with just six hits in 37 at-bats.

That came after he was enjoying the best offensive season of his career in Memphis before his promotion – hitting a career-high 10 homers to go with 41 RBIs and a .283 average in 68 games.

“It’s like anything else, it’s an adjustment and you get used to it,” Kelly said. “There’s always little details you can reflect on.”

One of the ways Kelly looks at his career is to draw a parallel comparison to his on-line college studies. He is taking one class now which will leave him just two quarters away, approximately 15 credit hours, from earning his college degree. Those classes should be completed next spring.

That will be about the same time Kelly will be ready to complete the requirements to move into a more regular role in the major leagues.

One of the hardest classes he had to take in pursuing his college degree was an accounting class. He got a passing grade, on his way toward his current 3.0 grade point average.

What he is trying to do now is earn a passing grade in his baseball course.

“This is one of the advanced higher level courses,” Kelly said. “I would say it’s a 500 or 600 level course. Even when I pass though, there’s always going to be new things to learn and you’re going to continue to evolve. I’m doing that right now.”

Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains