At 6-foot-1, 230 pounds, Kela can easily be mistaken for a football linebacker.
After high school, the Seattle Mariners selected Kela in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft. Instead of signing, he chose to attend Everett Community College, where he played baseball for one season. He pitched and played the outfield for the Trojans. It was at Everett where his fastball velocity began to increase and his stock as a pitcher began to rise.
In the 2012 Draft, the Rangers chose Kela in the 12th round -- one of a number of pitchers they selected. He is currently No. 16 on the Rangers' Top 30 Prospect list.
Following the Draft, Kela began his career with the Rangers' Arizona League rookie club and pitched exclusively in relief. He threw 11 1/3 innings and posted a 1.59 ERA. The following year, Kela pitched at several levels in the Rangers' system -- including the Arizona League club, Class A Short Season Spokane, and Class A Hickory.
My first look at Kela came at the end of that 2013 season, when he pitched for Surprise in the Arizona Fall League. I was impressed by what I saw. He threw 8 2/3 innings over seven games, yielding only five hits while ending the autumn without allowing a run. He was dominant at the end of games, earning two saves in as many chances.
During his three Minor League seasons, Kela averaged 12.2 strikeouts per nine innings while walking an average of 4.5 hitters per nine.
Kela is a power pitcher. He has a very strong and loose arm and can generate a velocity of 100 mph with his four-seam fastball. In general, his fastball sits at 95 mph. Without a doubt, he can dominate hitters with that high-velocity fastball and a very reliable and effective hard curveball that he usually throws at 84 to 85 mph. He also mixes in an efficient changeup at 84 mph, as well. In his career to date, Kela has been counted upon to get lots of swings and misses, as well as inducing a good share of ground balls.
There are times when Kela's fastball flattens and lacks movement. That usually happens when he nears 100 mph. When he keeps that pitch in the 93-94 mph range, he gets late life on the ball. He has a bit of deception in his mechanics that make his pitches difficult to see coming out of his hand. Once he masters his command and control with more consistency and can repeat his delivery from pitch to pitch, he will become even tougher to hit. If there is any issue that has held him back a bit, it has been inconsistent fastball command.
Kela had a very good spring for the Rangers. He pitched 9 2/3 innings over 10 games. The opposition hit only .167 against him, as he yielded six hits and finished with a 2.79 ERA and 0.83 WHIP. His performance earned him an opportunity to break camp as part of the club's bullpen and he made his Major League debut on April 7 against the Oakland Athletics.
Kela is a pitcher with outstanding upside. In fact, every time I see him pitch he looks like a closer in waiting. Having just turned 22 in mid-April, he has plenty of time to further develop his arsenal and mature as a pitcher. But, eventually, I think he can close big league games.