Last night, SP Merrill Kelly made his Major League debut for the Arizona Diamondbacks against the San Diego Padres. Kelly, 30, threw 6 innings and gave up 3 runs on 5 hits and 2 BBs. He’s had an interesting journey to his first MLB start. After being an 8th round pick from Arizona State and four years in the Tampa Bay Rays system, Kelly ventured abroad to South Korea’s professional league, the KBO.
The KBO is known for being very hitter friendly and posed Kelly with some unique challenges. In addition to the caliber of the hitters, Kelly has discussed the need to make adjustments to the size of the baseball, the training schedule, and culture difference. However, these adjustments helped Kelley develop further into being more of a power-pitcher, running his fastball velo from ~88-90 to ~93-94. These adjustments eventually helped him earn a rotation spot with his hometown team, the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Kelly is not the only pitcher to have gone abroad, develop, and return to the states. Names like Miles Mikolas and Tony Barnette have also played overseas in Japan.
Kelly’s story provides a nice example of how exposure to other leagues can aid in player development. Baseball is a universal game, however the different cultures and practices surrounding the game can bring out the best in players.