A baseball player’s value is best shown by what it is they do on the field. You can have all the hype in the world and a 102 mph fastball in the bullpen, but if that doesn’t translate into results, you can forget about a career in the majors. It also doesn’t hurt if you can be a multi-tooled player, that teammate that can come in late in the game and move around as needed. When it came down to Jeff Larish, Clete Thomas and Don Kelly for that final spot, the choice was easy for Jim Leyland, Don Kelly was his man.
Of the three battling for spot no. 25, Kelly seems to be the least assuming of the group to make the team. He has the smallest frame and his big hit potential is considerably lower. He also has a few more years under his belt, so youth isn’t necessarily on the side of the 30 year old. Players like Raburn and Santiago are on the team so Carlos Guillen, Miguel Cabrera and Magglio Ordonez are balanced for their effectiveness in the field. Kelly is from the same build as a Ryan Raburn or Ramon Santiago, all players which can be frustrating for an opposing manager.
Few may know that Don Kelly almost made the big league squad out of Spring Training 2006. When rookies Jordan Tata, Joel Zumaya and Justin Verlander (Verlander had pitched a few games in 2005) broke camp for that magical season, they barely beat out the minor league journeyman looking to join his first team. Luck came a year later with his hometown Pittsburgh, where he finally saw MLB playing time, batting .148 over 25 games. For a career sub .220 hitter, Kelly will be best considered a defensive specialist for this year’s team.
If the Tigers are going to make a run to the finish line this season, they will need these utility players to be clutch, defensive specialists. Think about Ryan Raburn’s impact in 2009. What would the Tigers season had looked like if Raburn had not caught fire down the stretch? In the one-game playoff with the Twins, Raburn gunned a player down at home and made a huge error. Such travails are all part of the life of a utility player.