Don Kelly is a five-tool player.
He can hit for average. He can hit for power. He can field. He can throw. He can run. He does all of these things with supreme ... adequacy.
By no means is Don Kelly a great baseball player. Over seven major league seasons he holds a triple-slash line of .232/.294/.343. He is worth less than one full win above replacement.
But despite all of that, he's been a mainstay on an ever-changing Tigers roster throughout the years. Looking at him from an outsider's perspective, it may not be abundantly clear what the Tigers have seen in him. He is lanky, and doesn't have overwhelming speed. He is quiet and unassuming and rarely shows up in highlights. He doesn't do any one thing particularly well. But he will do anything and everything that is asked of him.
He was first welcomed into the organization in 2001 after he was drafted in the eighth round (237th overall), and he spent parts of six seasons in the minor leagues before the organization cut ties with him. During this time, he shuffled from position to position, doing whatever was needed in the moment. It was a sign of things to come.
He saw his first glimpse of major league action in 2007 with the Pittsburgh Pirates. If you have paid any sort of attention up to this point, you can probably imagine that his brief time in Pittsburgh was anything but overwhelming. He hit .148 in 27 at-bats, playing at four different positions.
He was granted free agency at the end of that year and spent all of 2008 with the Triple-A Tucson Sidewinders, an affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks. At the conclusion of the season, he was once again granted free agency. And thus started the legend of Don Kelly as we currently know him.
Each year in the NBA a "Sixth Man of the Year" award is given out to the league's best player coming off of the bench. Essentially an MVP of substitutes.
No such award exists in Major League Baseball, but if it did, it would more than likely go to, well, probably Emilio Bonifacio of the Chicago Cubs. But if not Bonifacio, then, again probably not, well, I guess Mike Aviles. Or Willie Bloomquist. Or maybe Josh Harrison.
Don Kelly isn't even the best at being the best utility man. But what he does have, however, is legitimate value.
Jim Leyland may have been the first to truly recognize just how valuable he was when he was called up to join the Tigers in June of 2009. He drew the unnecessary ire of fans (myself included) because of the unorthodox way Leyland would sometimes play him. It was not uncommon to see Kelly slotted into the number three hole of the lineup. He also became a go-to as a late inning defensive replacement.
He has played every position on the field in his career, including catcher and pitcher (both in 2011). He has accepted as assignment to Triple-A without so much as a peep and has declined the opportunity to explore free agency. He barely makes over the league minimum, and by all accounts, he is a wonderful human being. These are all good things.
It appears as though new manager Brad Ausmus sees the same qualities that Leyland saw in him too.
Kelly is hitting a very respectable .266 in his reserve role, as well as holding on to a .356 OBP, which is the highest of his career. Through 53 games, he has already made appearances at five different positions.
On the surface he might be replacement level, but when you have the ability to fill so many holes with relative decency, you become an asset to your team -- any team.
And so, the 2014 Detroit Tigers, with expectations of a World Series or bust, are still holding close to Don Kelly. If and when this team makes the playoffs, Don Kelly will be ready and waiting to fill in at third base. Or left field. Or pinch run. Or whatever is asked of him.
Remember, he can do it all.