clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

2024 South Side Sox Top Prospect No. 45: Jared Kelley

Is it time to get worried?

A move to the pen may only have made matters worse for Jared Kelley.
| JaredK.13/Instagram

Jared Kelley
Right-Handed Relief Pitcher
230 pounds
Age: 22
2021 SSS Top Prospect Ranking: 5
2022 SSS Top Prospect Ranking: 9
2023 SSS Top Prospect Ranking: 15
2023 High Level Birmingham (AA)
Age relative to high level -3.3 years
SSS rank among all right-handed relievers in the system: 4
Overall 2023 stats 2-7 ⚾️ 28 games (five starts, four finishes) ⚾️ 65 IP ⚾️ 7.48 ERA ⚾️ 1.908 WHIP ⚾️ 75 K ⚾️ 54 BB

Refugio, Texas. Never heard of it? This town in southern Texas, the birthplace of Hall-of-Famer Nolan Ryan, is also the home of White Sox prospect Jared Kelley.

Considered one of the best prep prospects ever from his home state, Kelley made mincemeat of the competition. Certainly that’s an exaggeration, right? He only pitched 12 innings during his senior season in 2020, but he allowed nary a hit and fanned 34 of the 36 batters he faced. Pretty impressive, indeed!

Kelley was quite an amazing catch for the White Sox, drafted in the second round in 2020 despite being pegged as a mid-first round talent. Obviously, “signability” concerns saw the fireballing prep drop — he had committed to the dream destination for many Texans, the University of Texas — but the White Sox played a hunch that first-round money could bring him into the fold. With essentially no drama, that’s just what happened.

Kelley spent time at the alternate site in Schaumburg in 2020, as the more MLB-ready fireballer and first-rounder Garrett Crochet advanced to the majors in the season’s final week.

The 2021 season was an adjustment for Kelley, however, as he struggled significantly with his command and control. In 12 starts totaling 23 2⁄3 innings combined with the ACL squad and Kannapolis, he posted a 7.61 ERA and 2.11 WHIP by allowing 24 hits (.247 OBA), 26 walks (9.89 BB/9) and 27 strikeouts (10.27 K/9). Kelly’s season was somewhat limited, as he suffered a right shoulder infringement in August that shut him down for a few weeks. The injury wasn’t serious enough to cause him to miss more than a handful of starts.

Despite Kelly’s struggles, especially with his command and control, most scouts believe he will get it figured out. Prospects Live said this regarding his command in August: “Kelley throws a lot of strikes, and moves his fastball/changeup combo around the zone innately and successfully. The ease of operation in terms of his mechanics allows for extreme repeatability, which leads to this command level. Above-average projection overall.” They gave him a 60 grade for control but 50 for command.

MLB Pipeline gives him the following grades: 65 fastball, 60 changeup, 50 slider and 50 control. Kelley’s repertoire begins with a mid-to-upper 90s heater that has peaked at 100 in combines. His changeup, long considered his best secondary, is thrown in the low-mid 80’s with fantastic sell and arm speed, and turns it over and generates great fading action; the speed variation is a terrific complement to his heater. His slider is currently a distant third offering that has lacked consistency, due to his his feel in spinning the ball. That pitch was hit-and-miss during the pre-draft circuit, with flashes of above-average but more often than not average to slightly-below.

Prospects Live said this of his delivery and mechanics: “XL frame with extremely physical, broad build. Durable and strong with look of MLB starter who can hold up under 200+ inning workload. Absurdly easy operation for someone who throws as hard and is as physical as Kelley. Balanced and fluid with good direction downhill, minimal effort at release with no recoil, repeats well. Starter operation.”

So, after all this, what were Kelly’s struggles in 2021 attributed to? Rust may have certainly played a factor. He wasn’t completely healthy, and this may have impacted his numbers. Perhaps his youth was a factor, as he was nearly two years younger than his ACL competition and three years younger than his Kannapolis opponents. He may have devoted much of his time working on his secondary options, and/or working on a new grip. Likely, it was some combination of all of the above.

In 2022, Kelley was solid: His 3.52 ERA shined, and while the wildness that landed a 1.421 WHIP was disconcerting, it’s important to recognize he was still pitching at nearly two years younger than his level.

As a starter, he was a bit shaky, sure — but almost a quarter of his starts lasting four innings or more were scoreless, and he came out on the positive end of a game score (better than 50) in 12 of 21 overall starts.

The worry here is that Kelley — again, a second-rounder almost two years young and Low-A — was robbed of momentum with the Cannon Ballers by spending the final month of his season as part of the vaunted Project Birmingham. Had he reported to the Barons to absorb wisdom and work with the best coaching the system has to offer, great. Camaraderie with teammates he was destined to spend South Side time with in 2025 or so? Sure. But Kelley was thrust into three starts against Double-A hitters more than four years his senior, and there is nothing to be gained from that. True enough, suiting up for action at Project Birmingham ended an otherwise inspiring season for the righthander with a flatulent finish: two games with a 6.75 ERA, one scoreless start pockmarked with five walks in four innings.

Was it a complete disaster? Probably not, though time will tell. Much like fellow second-rounder Wes Kath, Kelley’s promotion was not one of merit ... making the toss to the wolves at a Double-A level he was not yet equipped to handle all the more curious.

In 2023, time told — and the story wasn’t good. Kelley broke camp in the Dash rotation and lasted all of five games (9.42 ERA, 2.233 WHIP) before taking a demotion to the bullpen. There, pitching about eight outs a game instead of a the starter’s expectation of double that, Kelley was only marginally better (6.93, 1.816). Astoundingly, though it was clear Kelley was working through significant control and contact issues and having thrown what were likely the first seven games of his life out of the bullpen, the White Sox again aggressively promoted him to Birmingham, where he floundered (11.74, 2.739). It is always worth reminding that Kelley is significantly younger than the hitters he is facing; one wonders whether the White Sox realize this.

Kelley’s Baseball Cube player ratings
Durability 64
Strikeouts 51
Hittable 42
vsPower 42
Walks 14
K/BB 14

Kelley is still too young for epitaphs, but at this point we are almost a season and a half from the last time the youngster was marginally effective as a pitcher. Presuming the White Sox are done jacking him around with aggressive promotions and role changes, a reasonable expectation would be a return to Winston-Salem (where he will still be more than a year old than competition level) to assemble a body of work worthy of a merited promotion to Double-A.

Failing that, the question will no longer be whether Kelley can handle a starter’s load or continue in a more focused role out of the pen, but whether his stuff will be able to weather an honest promotion beyond A-ball.

[Note: The makeup of the White Sox minors changes over the long course of this project, shifting ratings. The February 3 trades with Seattle and Arizona have added three highly-rated prospects to our list, sliding players down. The list below represents our updated rankings, although the stories they link to will retain original rankings (example, No. 56 Troy Claunch originally was our No. 55 prospect).]

2024 South Side Sox Top 100 White Sox Prospects

45. Jared Kelley, RHRP
46. Ryan Galanie, 1B
47. DJ Gladney, LF
48. Eddie Park, CF
49. Yoelqui Céspedes, CF
50. Christian Oppor, LHSP
51. Michael Turner, C
52. Tristan Stivors, RHRP
53. Caleb Freeman, RHRP
54. Jake Peppers, RHSP
55. Shane Murphy, LHRP
56. Troy Claunch, C
57. Edrick Felix, 2B
58. Gabriel Rodríguez, RHSP
59. Edgar Navarro, RHRP
60. Lucas Gordon, LHSP
61. Andrew Pérez, LHRP
62. Javier Mogollon, 2B
63. Aldrin Batista, RHSP
64. Ryan Castillo, 1B
65. Bryce Willits, 3B
66. Colby Smelley, C
67. Wes Kath, 3B
68. Alsander Womack, 2B
69. Jordan Sprinkle, SS
70. Connor McCullough, RHSP
71. Luis Rodriguez, RHRP
72. Jonah Scolaro, LHRP
73. Ben Beutel, LHRP
74. Stiven Flores, C
75. Adrian Gil, 1B
76. Yohemy Nolasco, RHRP
77. Ben Norman, LF
78. Josimar Cousín, RHSP
79. Juan Gonzalez, C
80. Chris Lanzilli, LF
81. Alex Speas, RHRP
82. Fraser Ellard, LHRP
83. Garrett Wright, RHRP
84. Duke Ellis, CF
85. Mathias LaCombe, RHRP
86. Godwin Bennett, RF
87. Rikuu Nishida, LF
88. Caden Connor, LF
89. Zach Franklin, RHRP
90. Jeremy González, LHSP
91. Jerry Burke, RHRP
92. Frankeli Arias, LHSP
93. Mikey Kane, 3B
94. Carlton Perkins, RHSP
95. Tyler Neslony, LF
96. Drew Dalquist, RHSP
97. Jason Matthews, SS
98. Jonathan Stiever, RHSP
99. Tommy Sommer, LHSP
100. Daniel González, LHRP

White Sox Game Recaps

Cubs 8, White Sox 1: Not Great!

White Sox Gamethreads

Gamethread: White Sox at Cubs (spring training opener)

Today in White Sox History

Today in White Sox History: February 23