The Texas Rangers currently have five picks in the 2020 MLB Draft, and while it is possible they could trade for a competitive balance pick from another team, it appears most likely they will have just their regular selections in each round. Their first pick is at #14 overall, and then they pick at #50, #87, #117, and #147.
In the run up to the draft, we will be highlight some players who are potential Ranger draft picks. Last year no one aside from Josh Jung that we wrote about was actually picked by the Rangers, as we mostly looked at prep players for their later picks, and they went college-heavy early in the draft for the first time in years. This year, the uncertainty over whether they will emphasize college players again or go back to prep players would make it hard to narrow down the list of potential prospects even in a normal year — the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic having shut down amateur play creates even more uncertainty about potential picks.
On the plus side, the lack of games and actual new scouting going on means that there’s going to be a lot less updated information, so a write-up I do now will likely still be more or less valid a month from now.
In any case, in the coming days, we will be doing write-ups of potential Texas Ranger draft picks. Today we take a look at Refugio, Texas, high school pitcher Jared Kelley.
Jared Kelley is a 6’3”, 215 lb. righthanded pitcher out of Refugio High School who is committed to the University of Texas. Kelley throws real, real hard — he touches 100 mph and regularly throws in the 97-99 range, so even in today’s turbo-charged fastball velocity world, Kelley is pretty special. Kelley combines that with a changeup that is considered a plus pitch — something of a rarity, given that a changeup is a feel pitch that usually takes longer for a pitcher to develop.
Kelley’s delivery gets high marks — Baseball America says it looks like “he’s playing catch on the mound,” and the lack of violence in the delivery you often see with hard throwing pitchers and overall fluidity gets praise. Kelley’s command is also advanced, particularly for a high school pitcher who throws as hard as he does.
Kelley’s breaking ball is still very much a work in progress, which is the biggest concern about him individually. He has a slider right now, but it isn’t sharp, and the spin rate on his breaking ball suggests that there’s not a ton of upside there.
Baseball America has Kelley at #12 on their pre-draft top 500, calling him “the most MLB-ready prep pitcher” in this class. MLB Pipeline also has Kelley at #12 Veen at #7 in their pre-draft rankings. Fangraphs has Kelley at #20 on their board, noting the concerns about the spin rate on his breaking ball and whether he’ll be limited as a result to a reliever role. Kiley McDaniel, on the other hand, has Kelley at #7 on his board for ESPN, and says he has an “above-average breaking ball.” Keith Law has Kelley ranked #18 on his board.
Keith Law has Kelley falling out of the first round in his mock draft. Jonathan Mayo’s mock draft, on the other hand, has Kelley going at #12 to the Cincinnati Reds. Kiley McDaniel’s mock draft has Kelley going to the San Francisco Giants at #13. The most recent Baseball America mock draft has the Washington Nationals taking Kelley at #22. Jim Callis mocks Kelley going to the Tampa Bay Rays at #24.
In prior years I would think Kelley would easily be off the board prior to the Rangers’ selection at #14 — he’s big, projectable, touches triple digits with quality command, has a strong second pitch, and has a good, clean delivery. He’s not Colt Griffin, a Texas high schooler who throws 100 but doesn’t offer anything else — he’s a more complete package.
High school righthanded pitchers taken in the first round have a very bad track record, however, and teams are therefore assigning a much higher risk premium in the past few years. That, combined with the issue of teams having had less of a look at high school players in general than college players being exacerbated by spring seasons being cancelled, suggests that we may see high school pitchers drop farther than we would in prior years.
Kelley is someone who I would say the pre-2019 Rangers would have been all over. Given the shift in emphasis in the 2019 draft, however, I’m not sure where the Rangers would have him. I would be surprised if they took Kelley at 14, all things considered, but it certainly wouldn’t be out of the question. Alternatively, they could see Kelley as someone to go over slot for in the second round, like they did with Hans Crouse a few years ago, though that would mean going under slot in round one, most likely.