Name: Keone Kela
DOB: April 16, 1993 (19)
Acquired: 2012 Amateur Draft, 12th Round (Everett Community College)
In the 12th round of last summer's MLB Draft, the Texas Rangers selected right-hander Keone Kela out of Everett Community College in Washington, where he played both ways as a freshman in 2012. Working as an outfielder and DH in addition to pitching, Kela went 14-for-48 at the plate in 17 contests.
On the mound, the 19-year-old appeared in 13 games, making four starts. He posted a 2.07 ERA in 39 total innings, yielding 23 hits, walking 25, and striking out 48.
Kela's control was better after signing, and his velocity ticked up a notch. In nine relief appearances with the rookie Surprise Rangers, he surrendered just two earned runs on four hits in 11.1 innings, walking four and striking out 15.
During an interview last summer, Rangers minor league pitching coordinator Danny Clark was impressed with Kela's debut showing.
"Just the initial reaction––basically I saw him one time about four weeks ago," Clark said. "He shows a really good arm action. He really has a fairly clean delivery for a guy that has not pitched a whole lot. And then obviously he has got really good arm strength. I think that's the encouraging part.
"I'm really excited to get him into instructional league, get our arms around him, and get really digging into more about who he is and what he's about as far as pitching goes. But I really like everything about him. He has got a very good head on his shoulders, and he is really eager to learn. So I think we're going to see a lot of good things out of this guy."
Although the player development process is ever fluid, there's a good chance Kela will work as a starting pitcher this season. As of last summer, Clark said the club would use instructs to determine Kela's 2013 role.
"I think that decision will be made at instructs," he said. "That's one of the things I want him––we're going to experiment as far as starting in instructs. It's just to allow him to give us a feel of what it is and give him a feel of what it is. Because he was basically an outfielder in junior college and basically he would come in and pitch."
Also See: 2012 Texas Rangers Draft Pick Database (June 4, 2012)
Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Danny Clark (August 31, 2012)
Texas Rangers Top 50 Prospects (January 12, 2013)
Lone Star Dugout Video: Keone Kela (January 23, 2013)
Repertoire: Fastball, Slider, Changeup.
Fastball: A raw low-to-mid 90s arm out of junior college, Kela saw his velocity tick up a notch after signing last summer, as he worked anywhere between 92-98 mph and mostly sat mid-90s in short relief. He showed 96-98 mph gas in one-inning bursts at times. Kela's fastball has some late boring action in on righties, particularly when thrown in the 92-95 mph range.
The 19-year-old overthrew at times last summer and didn't consistently stay within his delivery––but it may not be a major concern going forward. Still somewhat new to pitching full-time, Kela has a compact delivery, and he's a good enough athlete who should be able to repeat his mechanics with more experience. The present lack of repeatability leads to below-average within-the-zone command, though he mostly threw strikes during his debut summer. Kela's just 6-foot-1 but, coming from over the top, he gets good downward plane on his fastball when he's working low in the zone.
Other Pitches: Kela's breaking ball is highly inconsistent at present but flashes plus potential. He spins an 80-83 mph slider that's almost like a hard curve; the pitch has two-plane action with good depth. The righty struggled with his release point on the pitch while working in rookie ball last summer. Typically one of every few sliders thrown would come out sharp, but when it did, it was a swing-and-miss offering. He'll need to refine it as he progresses.
Kela also has a little-used changeup with slight life, but it's a very raw pitch that was thrown at 88 mph during instructs. While he'll work on it in an expanded role this season, he's always likely to be more of a two-pitch guy with the chance for a usable third offering.
Projection: With two potential swing-and-miss pitches, Kela has the ceiling of a late-inning reliever. He already shows a 70-grade fastball but must refine his command for it to play at that level in games. Though his breaking ball is highly inconsistent at present, it also flashes plus potential. Kela was a junior college draftee but signed after his freshman season; he's still relatively new to full-time pitching, and he'll play the entire season at age 20. The California native has mature velocity but needs developing in all other aspects––mechanics, secondaries, fielding his position, and the like.
2013 Outlook: The Rangers used Kela in a couple three-inning stints at instructs, looking to prepare him for a starting role in 2013. Although he almost certainly profiles as a reliever, Kela––like most hard-throwing lower-level prospects––may be stretched out this season in an effort to maximize the opportunity for development. That's all up in the air entering spring training though, and there's also a good chance he just goes into the bullpen. If that happens, Kela could open the year at Single-A Hickory with a chance to finish it in Myrtle Beach.
|2012||AZL Rangers (RK)||0-1||11.1||4||4||15||1.59|