Keone Kela Scouting Report: Texas Ranger righthanded pitcher Keone Kela ranked #16 on the LSB Community Prospect Rankings.
In the days leading up to Opening Day, I'm going to offer write-ups on the 31 players who made the Rangers' LSB Community Prospect Rankings Top 31. I've done this the last couple of years, and I don't want to re-invent the wheel, so some of this will be a repeat of what I've written before, particularly regarding draft history or performance pre-2013. Also, this is not based on my personal observations -- I'm not a scout, and haven't seen most of these guys. I'm just aggregating the numbers and what others say about these players.
So, with that out of the way, let's take a look at Keone Kela...
Keone Kela has a 6'1", 190 lb. righthanded pitcher. Kela, who turns 21 in April, was a 12th round draft choice of the Rangers in the 2012 draft out of Everett Community College in Everett, Washington. He had been drafted the year before by Seattle in the 29th round out of a Seattle high school, so among the other reasons to root for him is that, if he does succeed, we can gloat that we stole him out of the M's back yard.
Baseball America's report on Kela prior to the 2012 draft was that he threw in the low-90s, could touch 95, and had a breaking ball that could become an average slider, but the effort in his delivery and his control issues meant he profiled as a potential middle reliever.
The Rangers apparently agree on Kela profiling as a reliever, as he has made 36 appearances in the Ranger organization in 2012-13, all in relief, throwing 50.1 innings. However, Kela's velocity has improved since becoming a pro, as he has been throwing in the mid- to upper-90s, and reportedly has touched 100 mph. The velocity has allowed Kela to strike out 67 batters in those 50 innings, while walking 19 and putting up a 3.04 ERA.
The Rangers sent Kela to the Arizona Fall League after the 2013 season, an ambitious assignment for a pitcher so young and inexperienced...Kela only had 18 innings above short-season ball, and all of those were in the low-A South Atlantic League. Kela acquitted himself admirably, however, throwing 8.2 innings over 7 games, striking out 10, walking 5, allowing 5 hits, and giving up just a single unearned run. Its a miniscule sample size, of course, but the fact that Kela pitched so well in a league made up of players -- and especially hitters -- who are older and more advanced than he is a very encouraging sign.
Kela then went to the Venezuelan Winter League and continued to impress, before his stint there was cut short because of elbow inflammation. That's scary to hear, but Kela is in camp, and I have not heard anything about him having any issues throwing, so hopefully, it was a situation where Kela just needed to rest the elbow after a long season.
I'm having a hard time figuring out where Kela will start the season. One would think he would start at high-A Myrtle Beach, but given the success Kela has had in the AFL and winter ball, it wouldn't be surprising to see him start the year at AA Frisco, particularly given that relievers who can touch 100 tend to move quickly. It wouldn't be surprising to see him in the major league bullpen by 2015.
As far as Kela's ceiling goes, the velocity is there, and that makes one dream of a shutdown reliever. He needs to work on his breaking ball and his command, and we have to hope the elbow issue was a one-off thing and not a sign of problems to come, but Kela is the type of pitcher who, if he continues to progress, could be an impact late-inning reliever.