MLBPA’s “Heart and Hustle” award has amusing candidates

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Today the MLB players association released the list of 30 candidates for their annual “Heart and Hustle” award that’s “presented to an active player who demonstrates a passion for the game of baseball and best embodies the values, spirit, and traditions of the game.”

A few things about the candidates list stood out to me …

• Matt Kemp is the Dodgers’ candidate, which is pretty extraordinary given that his own general manager publicly criticized his lack of hustle throughout the season. His heart must be off the charts to make up for it. Or something.

• Dustin Pedroia is the Red Sox’s candidate. His “heart” was so big that he missed the final 40 games of the season after trying to play through a foot injury that worsened. He did show a lot of “hustle” by taking infield reps from his knees while on the disabled list.

• Pablo Sandoval is the Giants’ candidate, which is a remarkable accomplishment for a 5-foot-11, 250-pound man who runs the bases like he’s wearing skates.

• I’m not sure if Twins candidate Nick Punto deserves the “heart and hustle” award but I’d certainly be in favor of giving him the “false hustle” award for sliding head-first into first base on every close play this decade.

• Of the 30 candidates listed, 17 of them can probably be described as “white guys.” Most of the time in surveys about “hustle” or its various synonyms Caucasians unfortunately tend to dominate, but in this case that’s right around MLB’s overall “white guy” population. Not surprisingly, the inaugural winner of the award back in 2005 was David Eckstein, but in fairness Albert Pujols was the winner last season.

Casey Kelly signs with the LG Twins in Korea

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We wrote a lot about Casey Kelly on this site circa 2010-12.

It was understandable. Kelly was a big-time draftee for the Red Sox and famously split time as a shortstop and a pitcher in the minors, with some people even wondering if he could do it full time. The Sox put the kibosh on that pretty quickly, as he became the top overall prospect in the Boston organization as a pitcher. He then made news when he was sent to San Diego — along with Anthony Rizzo — in the famous Adrian Gonzalez trade in December 2010.

He made his big league debut for the Padres in late August of 2012, holding a pretty darn good Atlanta Braves team scoreless for six innings, striking out four.  He would pitch in five more games in the season’s final month to not very good results but missed all of 2013 and most of 2014 thanks to Tommy John surgery.

He wouldn’t make it back to the bigs until 2015 — pitching only three games after being converted to a reliever — before the Padres cut him loose, trading him to the Braves for Christian Bethancourt who, like a younger Kelly, the Padres thought could be a two-way player, catching and relieving. That didn’t work for him either, but I digress.

Kelly made a career-high ten appearances for a bad Braves team in 2016, was let go following the season and was out of the majors again in 2017 after the Cubs released him a couple of months after he failed to make the team out of spring training. He resurfaced with the Giants this past season for seven appearances. The Giants cut him loose last month.

Now Kelly’s journey takes him across the ocean. He announced on Instagram last night that he’s signed with the LG Twins in the Korean Baseball Organization. He seems pretty happy and eager about it in his little video there. I don’t blame him, as he’ll make $1 million for them, as opposed to staying here and almost certainly winding up in a Triple-A rotation making $60K or whatever it is veteran minor leaguers make.

This was probably way too many words to devote to a journeyman heading to play in Korea, but we so often forget top prospects once they fail to meet expectations. We also tend to forget all of the Tommy John casualties, focusing instead on the Tommy John successes. As such, I wanted to think a bit about Casey Kelly. I hope things work out well for him in the KBO and a baseball player who once seemed so promising can, after a delay, find success of his own.