Don Kelly

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Donald Thomas Kelly

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Biographical Information[edit]

Don Kelly was a utility player who has mostly played with the Detroit Tigers. Extremely versatile, he has played all positions for the Tigers. Struggling six years in the minors, Kelly finally made his major league debut with the Pittsburgh Pirates at age 27 at the start of the 2007 season. Originally a free-swinger with little power who seldom walked, he has become more discriminate at the plate, thereby improving his OBP. He is the son-in-law of former big league pitcher Tom Walker and brother-in-law of Neil Walker.

Amateur career[edit]

Kelly hit .367 as a freshman in 1999 and scored 35 runs and stole 12 bases in 38 games. He slugged .483. In 2000, he batted .411/?/.544 and scored 58 runs in 46 contests, while swiping 23 bases. He was a NAIA All-American Honorable Mention. He played that year in the Coastal Plain League, hitting a solid .313/?/.368 for the Petersburg Generals. He tied for sixth in the league in average and stole 28 bases, probably leading the league. He made the league All-Star team as the top second baseman. As a junior, he hit .450 and averaged exactly a run and RBI in his 45 games. He slugged .576 and swiped 39 bases. He made Baseball America's NAIA All-American team as a utility infielder. His career .413 average was the best in school history. The Detroit Tigers picked him in the 8th round of the 2001 amateur draft. He was signed by scout Lou Laslo and made his pro debut that summer.

Detroit farmhand[edit]

Kelly debuted professionally in 2001 for the Oneonta Tigers. The regular shortstop, he hit .286/.345/.340 in 67 games. His steal rate fell significantly from college, as he stole 8 bases in 13 tries. In 2002, Don was with the West Michigan Whitecaps, hitting .286/.368/.360 with 72 runs and 21 doubles, showing good OBP ability.

Hesplit 2003 between the Lakeland Tigers (.317/.401/.409 in 87 games, 15-for-17 in steal attempts) and the Erie Sea Wolves (.265/.378/.386 in 22 contests), starting a long association with that team. Kelly would have led the Florida State League in average and OBP had he qualified; Ryan Howard claimed the batting crown instead. Kelly still made the FSL All-Star team as the top shortstop.

Don was with the Grand Canyon Rafters in the fall of 2003 but only hit .213/?/.309 for them.

In 2004, Kelly impressed Alan Trammell during spring training but hurt his shoulder and missed most of the season. He hit just .228/.331/.327 in 28 games for Erie and was 4 for 10 for the GCL Tigers in a rehab stint. It was basically a lost season.

Rebounding in 2005, Kelly hit an impressive .340/.402/.508 for Erie. He stole 10 bases in 12 tries and cracked 9 homers (his best total yet). He moved up to the Toledo Mud Hens, batting .250/.306/.319 in 43 games for them and stealing 8 bases in 10 tries. Only Marcus Thames had a higher average in the Tigers farm system that year. Baseball America named Don the best batting prospect in the Eastern League and he would have finished second in average to Randy Ruiz had he qualified. His OBP would have been three points below leader Ruiz. He made the EL All-Star team as a utility infielder.

One of the last players cut from Detroit's training camp in 2006, Don continued his on-and-off streak by only batting .228/.304/.312 in 66 games with the Mud Hens and stealing 18 bases in 25 tries. He got sent back down for a fourth year with Erie. He hit .275/.354/.338 for that club in 58 games.

Reaching the Major Leagues[edit]

Let go by the Tigers, he signed with his hometown Pittsburgh Pirates. In January, Don wed his girlfriend of three years, Carrie Walker, the daughter of former pitcher Tom Walker and sister of Pittsburgh prospect Neil Walker. Kelly made a favorable impression in training camp on Jim Tracy, who said "He has a lot of energy and a very unselfish approach to the game...I haven't seen anything thus far I haven't liked." Late in spring training, utility man José Hernández was released and Kelly was added to the 40-man roster, ending one of the closest competitions for a roster spot in Bucco camp that year.

Kelly's MLB debut wa pinch hitter (and later played in the field at second base) on April 2, 2007. Kelly almost never was used in the season's first two months, only getting 26 AB. He hit .154/.290/.154 and was designated for assignment on June 12 to free up a roster spot for Danny Kolb. He wore number 29 in his time with the Bucs. He batted .218 in 18 games for the Indianapolis Indians and returned to Pittsburgh when Jose Bautista went on the Disabled List.

Overally, Kelly hit .148/.281/.148 in 32 plate appearances for the 2007 Pirates and .247/.335/.307 in 52 games for Indianapolis.

He signed a minor league contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks in December of 2007 but was later released. He was then picked up again by Detroit and played for them from 2009 to 2014 as a utility player. His stint in Detroit included reaching the 2012 World Series, when he got into two games and went 0 for 1 as the Tigers were swept by the San Francisco Giants. He had three seasons in which he played over 110 games, in 2010, 2011 and 2013 and he hit 9, 7 and 6 homers respectively those three seasons. His batting average was usually modest, hovering between .186 and .250, and generally in the .240's. He played all over the diamond, including a game on the mound in 2011, with his most common positions being left field, thirds base, right field and first base.

In 2015, Kelly became a free agent and joined the Miami Marlins. He only played two games in the majors that year, however, getting a single at-bat, as he fractured a finger on April 12th, then injured an elbow while on a rehabilitation assignment with the Class A Jupiter Hammerheads and had to undergo Tommy John surgery.

Post-Playing Career[edit]

Kelly started his post-playing career as a professional scout for the Detroit Tigers in 2017-2018. In 2017 he also worked as an assistant to player development. Kelly returned to the diamond in 2019 when he was named first base coach with the Houston Astros, but stayed only for one season. In 2020, he was named bench coach of the Pittsburgh Pirates under new manager Derek Shelton and remains in that role through the 2023 season.

Sources: "Infielder's intangibles striking" by Paul Meyer in the 3/15/07 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Mt. Lebanon's Kelly living a dream in Pirates' camp" by Dejan Kovacevic in the 3/1/07 South edition of the Post-Gazette,, 2001-2007 Baseball Almanacs

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