Keone Kela: Does He Replace Neftali Feliz As Rangers Closer?
With one of the worst bullpens in baseball after trading back-end relievers Jason Frasor and Joakim Soria – not to mention the possible free agency exit of lefty Neal Cotts – the Texas Rangers will need to rebuild a bullpen for the 2015 season. With the Double-A Frisco RoughRiders, Keone Kela has dominated with 42 strikeouts in 31 innings. Will the flame-throwing right-hander be ready to contribute at the MLB level next season?
Listed at 6-foot-1, 225 pounds, or 35 pounds higher than his drafted weight, Keone Kela‘s height is not imposing. However, a broad-shouldered frame leaves him looking like a blocking fullback on the pitcher’s mound. Thick and well-proportioned throughout, Kela is able to generate velocity from a strong base. Despite throwing gas, the former 12th round pick out of Everett Community College has a lower effort delivery.
After a short leg kick which brings his front knee to the belt, Kela fully extends his throwing arm downwards before bringing it up and over-the-top. The Hawaiian finishes facing the first base side foul line and with his back foot still in the air when the ball crosses the plate, leaving him in no position to field.
The Rangers fireman the prototypical closer’s mindset. The flame-throwing right-hander is intense on the mound, and a man of few words off of it. He is not scared to bust a batter in and his only focus during a game is the game. Whether or not Kela is pitching on a particular day has no effect on his routine. Starting in the 6th inning of every game, he will stretch and pace until the game is over without sitting back down. A hard worker, Kela has an aggressive makeup to fit his pitching arsenal.
Keone Kela’s best pitch is a fastball Mike Newman clocked at 93 mph with Single-A Hickory. Today, the pitch sits at 96-98 mph, touching triple digits. It features hard, late sinking action, allowing the pitch to miss barrels and generate swings-and-misses. It is not uncommon for Kela to generate a handful of swings-and-misses in an inning with his fastball. It’s an MLB ready pitch which has improved throughout the season.
In addition to the fastball, Keone Kela offers a slurve with plus potential. It’s a pitch the 21-year-old simply calls a breaking ball, his secondary offering has been referred to as a slider, but has morphed into more of a curveball given its recent shape. An 11-5 pitch, it features two-plane break and drops off a cliff. With an identical motion and arm speed as Kela’s fastball, the pitch is a hammer due to a late, hard drop. Consistency has been an issue though as the pitch isn’t always sharp.
The top-20 Rangers prospect has walked over 5.81 batters per nine innings in Double-A, indicating a lack of control. However, Keone Kela has flashed an ability for improved control and command throughout the season. The issue is not constant wildness, but a lack of consistency from batter-to-batter.
It is not uncommon for Kela to strike a batter out on three consecutive pitches at the knees and follow it up with a four or five pitch walk. A high energy pitcher, Kela would benefit by better understanding tempo. Taking a walk around the mound after a string of balls is like pressing a reset button and starting fresh mid-batter. For now, the control and command are not MLB ready. However, the reliever has the ability to refine and improve. If he doesn’t, then it’s impossible to project him as a future closer.
Tool Present Future Projected Role All-Star Closer Fastball 70 80 Curveball 45 60 Control 35 55 Command 30 50
Owning Keone Kela
In a 2013 piece on Stetson Allie, Pirates Assistant General Manager Kyle Stark recalled a conversation with the converted first baseman where he said, “Closers in the minor leagues don’t become closers in the major leagues.” However, a look at current MLB leader boards indicate this line of thinking is changing — even on a Pirates team whose handed closer duties to Mark Melancon, a pitcher with 0 professional starts.
And for as much as Major League Baseball organizations work to identify areas to gain a competitive advantage, most also follow popular trends too. Keone Kela is in position to benefit from this. The fact current Rangers closer Neftali Feliz is a shell of his former self also helps. In 5×5 dynasty fantasy baseball leagues, few realize elite closers are more valuable than second starters from a dollar value standpoint. Stash the Double-A closer now with the hope he grows into the role by opening day 2016. – Mike Newman
8 Aug 2014 / Grant Schiller /
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