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Saturday, December 4, 2021

Jimy Kelly played six pro seasons - most before age 20; Missed bigs, got age rule named for him

Jimy Kelly picked up two hits in this early-April game in 1987 at single-A Dunedin. He also scored twice, The Tampa Bay Times wrote.

Kelly explained to The Times later his early success at that level.

"I'm seeing the ball well," Kelly told The Times. "I'm kind of surprised because of the caliber of high (Class) A ball here."

Others were simply surprised at Kelly. Entering his third pro season, Kelly, a native of the Dominican Republic, still was only 16 years old.

His early signing - at the age of 13 - is credited with catching the eye of the rest of baseball and increasing the age of eligibility to sign a professional contract - The Jimy Kelly Rule.

Kelly's career began in February 1984, signed by the Blue Jays out of his native Dominican Republic. He wouldn't turn 14 until that July.

His signing came about almost accidentally. His older brother had been the one the scout was there for. But the scout spotted Kelly and wanted to sign him. He did, and became the youngest player ever to sign, wrote.

"It was a big surprise for me and my hometown. No one really believed it," Kelly told later.

Kelly started stateside for the Blue Jays in 1985, in the rookie Gulf Coast League. The 14-15-year-old hit .193 over 48 games. He then moved to short-season St. Catharines in 1986. He hit .180 there. 

He then started 1987 at Dunedin and he spoke to The Times at another point that April about his time in the pros.

"I realized I was smaller, younger, weaker than most guys," Kelly told The Times, "but I never felt like I didn't belong because I knew I could play."

Kelly saw 71 games that year at Dunedin and hit .218. He made the Blue Jays spring training roster in 1988, and drew some extra attention from reporters and Blue Jays GM Pat Gillick explained the early signing, and noted the age rule had been changed to 17.

Years later, Sports Illustrated caught up with Kelly over the Jimy Kelly Rule, and recounted struggles on and off the field for the young Kelly. 

"Now I see I didn't know how to be a professional," Kelly told SI in 2012. "I didn't have the maturity to handle it."

He played 1988 at AA Knoxville. He saw 118 games and hit .210. He played 1989 back at Dunedin and then saw 30 final games with the Mets at high-A St. Lucie in 1990 to end his career.

1990 Minor League Tally 
Players/Coaches Featured:3,794
Made the Majors:1,281-33.8%
Never Made Majors:2,513-66.2%-X
5+ Seasons in the Majors:526
10+ Seasons in the Minors:316

1 comment:

  1. Never heard about this guy before. Interesting story.