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Minor League Monday
On December 3rd, 2021, the Oakland Athletics signed former Mariners and Rays prospect Dalton Kelly to a minor league contract. A consistent riser through the minors, Kelly has yet to play a single game at the MLB level in the regular season, only appearing in a few spring training games. However, considering he is currently on the 40-man and has been invited to the brief 2022 Spring Training, there is definitely something there that the A’s are interested in. In order to understand what they see, we need to look back at Kelly’s origins.
Dalton Kelly was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the 38th round of the 2015 Amateur Draft out of the University of California, Santa Barbara. After not really performing spectacularly well with limited appearances in his Freshman and Sophomore campaigns, Kelly had a breakout year for the Gauchos in 2015. He slashed a solid .261/.379/.432 in 2015 for a great team that also had Shane Bieber and Dillon Tate on their roster. Even though his performance was only solid on a standout team, Dalton was drafted by the Mariners following the season.
Kelly wouldn’t really show his skills with the bat in his first professional stint in the Arizona League, hitting only a .219 batting average. However, his on-base percentage was at a fantastic .385, which helped to compliment his mediocre slugging percentage of .333. He also stole 10 bases without being caught once. This combined with his slugging is a bit against tradition when it comes to the first base position and might explain why teams experimented with him in the corner outfield.
Seeing this promise with Kelly’s plate discipline, the Mariners decided to bring him up to Single-A in 2016 and would see him blossom. Dalton would hit a .293/.384/.416 slash with the Clinton LumberKings in 2016 and would even make the Midwest League’s West Division All-Star team. Needless to say, at this point, Kelly had established himself as a prized name to go after.
The Tampa Bay Rays did not waste much time at all, adding Dalton Kelly to a sizable deal with the Mariners. This deal sent Richie Shaffer (career minor leaguer with a brief stint in the majors) and Taylor Motter (a fringe major leaguer) to the Mariners for Kelly, Dylan Thompson (a bust), and Andrew Kittredge (an All-Star reliever). Even with Dalton not playing in the majors for the Rays and Thompson being a bust, this is a heavily lopsided deal in favor of the Rays, as Motter and Shaffer didn’t do much, if anything, with the Mariners organization.
With Dalton Kelly now in the Rays organization, he would truly begin to show his promise in 2017. After being called up for Spring Training, Dalton would slash a .305/.390/.411 in High-A before being called up to Double-A. He would do even better with the Montgomery Biscuits, hitting a .302/.411/.516 slash in the second half of the season. Kelly would surprisingly not make the All-Star team, despite being called up after the game was played.
2018 would be a bit of a down year for Kelly. He would not be called up for Spring Training and would hit only a .228/.342/.331. While his OBP was still OK, his batting and slugging numbers had slumped back to his Rookie League form. Concerns had to have been brought up at this point regarding Dalton’s progression. Luckily, 2019 would put some of these concerns to rest.
Dalton would bounce back to form in 2019, hitting a .278/.429/.377 slash and making the All-Star team in Double-A, before being called up to Triple-A for the remainder of the season. He would hit equally well in Triple-A, slashing a .283/.369/.423 in the second half of the season with the Durham Bulls. Unfortunately, with the 2020 minor league season being cancelled, like many other previously mentioned prospects, the concerns about his continued success started to creep in.
In 2021, Dalton Kelly would silence all of his critics. He would once again be called up for Spring Training, but would spend the entirety of 2021 raking in Triple-A. Dalton would hit a .244/.350/.512 slash with a team leading 27 home runs, 17 higher then the next highest in his entire career. Once again, he would surprisingly not make the All-Star team, but would win one player of the week award in August. Even more surprisingly, following this breakout year in Triple-A, the Rays would let Kelly walk in free agency.
Similar to Brent Honeywell Jr., Dalton Kelly would leave the Rays organization a move to the Athletics organization in free agency. The Athletics are getting a very Moneyball-like first baseman in Kelly. Like Scott Hatteberg, Dalton hasn’t really hit for power, outside of last year, and instead is more well-known by his high OBP.
Unlike Scott, however, he has shown the ability the hit for power more traditionally expected at 1B. Also, Kelly has consistently been a threat on the basepaths, routinely stealing between the high-teens and low-twenties, while mostly maintaining a high SB%. This, combined with his corner outfield versatility, are skills that Hatteberg was never really able to provide. Dalton might also be a slightly better fielder, going off of fielding %, but that is not a very accurate measurement. Overall, Dalton Kelly could be a very interesting addition to the MLB roster, especially since the recent Matt Olson trade opens up a space at 1B.
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