Padres reportedly sign RHP Keone Kela

Padres Keona Kela

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Credit: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Keone Kela posted on social media that he is a member of the San Diego Padres organization. There is no official word yet, but that could change in the coming days. 

San Diego Padres’ general manager A.J. Preller is at it again with another low-risk, high reward deal.

This time the target is former Pirates pitcher Keone Kela. Today in Kela’s Instagram bio, it said, “Pitcher for the San Diego Padres,” although he removed it later in the day. To sign Kela, the Padres would have to remove a player from the 40-man roster. They likely asked him to change his bio until that corresponding move has been made.

Padres fans may have noticed a trend with some of Preller’s acquisitions. The Rangers drafted Kela in 2012. Preller was the Senior Director of player personnel for the Rangers in 2012. This could be another case of Preller acquiring a player that he had previously scouted/worked with.

Kela would serve as a bullpen arm with closer potential. His best season came in 2018 when he had 24 saves, 3.29 era, and a 2.97 FIP. In that 2018 season, he lit up the baseball savant advanced analytics ratings. He finished in the 84th percentile in xERA, xBA, and xwOBA. Throughout his career, he has consistently ranked in the top 90 percentiles for fastball velocity. His career K/9 sits at 11.05 and BB/9 at 3.45.

Kela’s arsenal consists mostly of a fastball and curveball combo with a changeup sprinkled in. The curveball is his moneymaker. In 2019 it had a 34.9% whiff rate and a .241 xWOBA. Sitting around 82 mph, it is one of the faster curves in the MLB. Yet it’s still 14 mph slower than his fastball. This speed differential with the movement is what makes it such a deceptive pitch.

The most significant factor for Keone Kela’s success will be health. In 2020 he only pitched two innings due to a positive COVID-19 test and then forearm tightness. In 2019, he missed time with elbow inflammation, which landed him on the 60-day injured list. The 2018 season was his last healthy year and, naturally, the best year of his career. This is the risk that the Padres are taking and why Kela was not signed earlier in the offseason.

Assuming he is healthy throughout spring training and looks like his typical self, then he should be a lock for a bullpen position.

Where in the bullpen depends on how Jayce Tingler wants to use him. The Padres reportedly are going to sign Mark Melancon, who had 11 saves last year for the Atlanta Braves. On the roster right now are Drew Pomeranz and Emilio Pagan, who are each high leverage relievers that can close games. Best guess says that the closer role will be an open competition between the four mentioned players. If Kela does not win the closer role, it’s easy to see him coming into high leverage situations, even earlier in the game. That would be more of a nod toward the Padres bullpen’s depth than a knock on Kela as a pitcher. This signing is not official but could be announced on the 17th when the Padres can designate disabled players and thus open up a roster spot for new aquasitions.

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