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Better know a Tiger: Don Kelly

Don Kelly is on the bubble in his quest for a sixth season as a Tiger

Andy Dirks hugs Don Kelly after a 4-1 win over the Indians on June 9, 2013.  Kelly hit a 3 run home run in the 6th inning.  The Tigers won the division by one game over the Indians.
Andy Dirks hugs Don Kelly after a 4-1 win over the Indians on June 9, 2013. Kelly hit a 3 run home run in the 6th inning. The Tigers won the division by one game over the Indians.
Duane Burleson

Today we transition from position players on the 40 man roster, but not likely to start the season on the active roster. Today we move to hitters likely to start the season in Detroit. Today we celebrate Don Kelly.

This is the "Better Know a Tiger" series, but you know Don Kelly. You know him because he currently ranks fourth in seniority on the team. Quick, you have 30 seconds to name the three Tigers who have been with the team longer than Donnie Kelly. Gene Lamont does not count.

Don Kelly is from the Pittsburgh area. He was born in Butler, attended high school in Mt. Lebanon, and played college ball at Point Park in downtown Pittsburgh. He lives in suburban Wexford. If he makes the team it should put to rest rumors that he is somehow linked to Jim Leyland off the field, through a Pittsburgh connection. He is actually instead related by marriage to the Walkers of Pittsburgh. Brother-in-law Neil plays for the Pirates. Brother-in-law Matt played outfield in the Tigers' system. Father-in-law Tom pitched for the Tigers in 1975. Tom also helped Roberto Clemente load the ill-fated earthquake relief plane to Nicaragua in 1972 which claimed Clemente's life. Had Tom Walker boarded that plane, Don Kelly never would have met his wife Carrie.

Don Kelly was drafted by the Tigers in the eighth round of the 2001 draft. He has ten seasons of minor league stats so what follows are the seasons with over 80 games at one level, and an average for the major league seasons:

Year Age Level Games PA K BA OBP SLG
2002 22 A 128 524 40 .286 .368 .360
2003 23 A+ 87 355 25 .317 .401 .409
2005 25 AA 82 371 43 .340 .402 .508
2008 28 AAA 124 479 44 .275 .324 .408
2009 29 AAA 105 420 51 .331 .404 .465
'07-'13 Major 79 167 23 .229 .290 .344

If you cover up the age column, look at the first three rows, and know that he started as a shortstop, you see a top prospect. I saw Don Kelly play at West Michigan in 2002 and left with a bat he had used. I hoped to see him soon make it to Detroit. So what happened? He was always a bit old for his level. He was injured in 2004 which derailed his development path. The Tigers gave up on him after 2006 and he went to the Pirates’ system, of course. But he ended up back in Detroit in 2009, and became a useful utility player.

So be careful of the age of a prospect (Devon Travis?). Remember they are human and stuff happens (Scott Sizemore?). But remember that players can find a role and arrive even after age 25 (Quintin Berry?).

Keys to Success

Don Kelly’s key is to do everything he can to help the team, on and off the field. There are 50 players who could do what he does and not change the Tigers’ results by one win over the course of a season. Thus we have the Donnie Deeds. He is just so helpful, and good to be around, that doggone it he belongs on the team.

Odd Numbers

10: The number of positions Don Kelly has occupied in the lineup. This includes every position on the field, and designated hitter. Charlie Finley famously had Bert Campaneris play every position in one game, though his time as a DH came later. Scott Sheldon of the Rangers also pulled off this trick. While many others have played nine positions in a career, typically they hail from the early days of baseball. Can you name another Tiger to have occupied all ten lineup spots? Hint: one season he led the team in offensive WAR, which just calls into question the value of that stat.

36: His number of postseason plate appearances. Don Kelly can help a team during the regular season by giving someone a day off or serving as a late-inning defensive replacement. But the Tigers need to do better than a career .229 hitter in the playoffs. Then again, Don Kelly outperformed Prince Fielder in the postseason.

2014 Outlook

Don Kelly will make the team because he is a safe choice, utterly flexible, and will cause absolutely no trouble. If he plays in less than 50 games, they will win the division. If he plays in over 100 games, something is wrong.