The Frisco RoughRiders routinely provide a glimpse into the future of the Texas Rangers, their parent club. This is no more evident than in Spring Training, when multiple minor leaguers are given big league looks by the powers that be.
The future of the Rangers is easy to observe in pitching prospects such as Chi Chi Gonzalez, as well as power-hitting outfielders, like Nomar Mazara.
However, one often overlooked aspect for the Rangers has been the role of closer, one that has been in flux since Neftali Feliz‘s Tommy John surgery and the departure of Joe Nathan via free agency after the 2013 season. Keone Kela, in the middle of an impressive big league Spring Training, could very well supplant Feliz as the closer for the Rangers.
Keone Kela: The “K-Man” has big league stuff
Kela, a 6’1”, 225 lb right-hander from Los Angeles, has soared up the prospects lists since his professional debut in the Arizona League in 2012.
As a 19-year-old drafted by the Rangers in the 12th Round of the 2012 MLB Draft, Kela’s fastball was clocked at 93 MPH – major-league average, but not overpowering.
By his second professional season, in 2013, Kela’s fastball was routinely clocked in the mid-90s and has since blossomed into a triple-digit offering.
2013 proved a pivotal year in Kela’s development, as his early season dominance led to a promotion to Single-A Hickory, after just 15 games combined at the rookie level and Low-A Spokane.
All told, Kela went 5-4 with a 3.46 ERA and 12 K/9 over three levels. A hard worker who never shys from competition, Kela really hit his stride in fall of 2013, where he struck out 10 in just 8 2/3 IP in the Arizona Fall League (AZFL), before moving on to the Venezuelan Winter League (VEWL), where he was just as dominant, striking out eight in six innings pitched.
Spring Training 2015
This is the first big league Spring Training the 22-year-old Kela has attended during his young career, and he has made the most of it. Over his 5 2/3 innings of work thus far, the most impressive statistic is that he has yet to walk a batter. Kela has a great chance of cracking the Texas Rangers bullpen out of camp, or, should he be re-assigned to Double-A Frisco, he could still make the team at some point this summer.
Kela proves that you don’t have to be 6’5” or taller to be intimidating. With a strong lower half and broad shoulders, Kela gets the most out of his 6’1”, 225lb frame, and, to quantify his power stuff, you need only look at the radar gun.
Kela sits in the 96-to-98 MPH range with his fastball, and routinely touches 100 MPH. Although his fastball tends to straighten out when thrown at max velocity, it still features extreme sinking action, which makes this pitch a true swing-and-miss offering. In short, when his fastball is on, it’s really all he needs to induce outs.
As if his heater wasn’t enough, Kela also mixes in a slurve – a slider and curveball combo – that also features an abrupt drop as it nears the plate, and is particularly difficult to pick up by the batter as it is thrown from the exact same over-the-top arm slot.
Kela’s delivery features so much torque, that his follow through tends to leave him with his back facing the plate. Although this does not leave him in a good fielding position, it does serve as a reminder to the batter that they have just fallen prey to the man with two Ks.
Kela is well above-average on all of his pitches, and his velocity is an easy 80 on the scout’s guide of 20-80. If Kela can consistently throw strikes and diminish his bases on balls – he has averaged 4.5 BB/9 over his minor league career – he can be an immediate impact arm for the Texas Rangers in 2015 and well into the future.
HT to Lonestarball.com‘s Tepid Participation for the last video, as well as for his excellent first-hand information in regards to Kela’s fastball. First video found via Scott Lucas‘ awesome YouTube Channel.