The Pittsburgh Pirates have acquired Texas Rangers closer Keone Kela in exchange for left-handed pitcher Taylor Hearn and a player to be named later. Expect that second name to be announced soon according to Ken Rosenthal. The delay in announcing it is that the team hasn’t been able to contact the player yet due to the late timing of the deal. More on this move shortly.
Pirates Executive Vice President, General Manager Neal Huntington on the addition of Kela. pic.twitter.com/dJ7KRpklj1
— Pirates (@Pirates) July 31, 2018
We have covered Kela here a few times already because he’s been the main name associated with the Pirates. Here’s slightly updated notes (he has pitched since then) from the first article when we found out that the Pirates had legitimate interest in him.
Kela is only 24 years old, and under team control through the 2020 season, making $1.2 M this year. If the Pirates added him, he would not only be an upgrade to the bullpen for this season, but would also help over the next two years.
This season, Kela has a 3.44 ERA and a 3.57 xFIP in 36.2 innings, with a 10.80 K/9 and a 3.44 BB/9 ratio as the Rangers’ closer. He’s a hard thrower who averages 97 MPH with his fastball and tops out at 99, along with a curveball that had a 19.2% whiff rate and a .427 OPS against through his first 34 innings.
(There appears to be some confusion with his free agency which will need to be cleared up. Baseball-Reference says that he had 3.000 years of service time on Opening Day, which would mean he would become a free agent after the 2020 season BUT they also say he becomes a free agent after 2021. Cot’s Baseball Contracts lists him as having 2.168 years of service time on Opening Day, meaning he will be four days short of free agency at the end of 2020 and still under control in 2021. Most sources say the Pirates have two full years or control left)
The Pirates do not intend to trade closer Felipe Vasquez if that’s the concern here for anyone. This move is to strengthen the bullpen
#Pirates do NOT intend to trade Vazquez following addition of Kela, source says. PIT made deal to strengthen back end of bullpen.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) July 31, 2018
We were planning an article on Hearn after he talked to Sean McCool. The main focus is what has been different for Hearn this year. Here’s an excerpt from that article, which wasn’t quite finished, but you see where the improvements were made.
Through the first month of the season, Taylor Hearn had a 5.81 ERA after five starts for the Altoona Curve. During his first two starts of the year, Hearn had only allowed one earned run in 11 innings; however, he allowed 12 earned runs in 9.1 innings pitched during his next two April starts.
After experimenting with a windup adjustment during his side sessions, Hearn went to the coaching staff with the idea to go back to an overhead windup. He had not taken the ball over his head during the windup since high school, but he felt it was time to make the switch back.
“I did it in high school, but I got away from it,” Hearn said. “I went to college, changed it, and simplified it. I was like, ‘I’m a lot older now, and I know how to fix stuff a lot easier’. That’s why I went back to it. I was messing around with it, and it’s been working for me ever since.”
Hearn made the windup adjustment at the beginning of May. Results weren’t the greatest the first time he deployed the windup in game (4 ER in 6 IP on May 4th); however, he’s been lights out ever since. Starting May 10th, Taylor Hearn has been arguably the best pitcher in the Eastern League and the Pirates organization. He has a 2.20 ERA and .182 batting average against in 14 starts.
Altoona manager Michael Ryan said that Hearn took it into his own hands to seek out ways to improve, and the results are tangible.
“He gets the ball out on time and gets to his backside a little more,” Ryan said. “It’s something that he felt comfortable with. He started doing it in his throwing program, and he said he thought he had something here. When a player is comfortable with something, he’s going to buy into the other mechanics side of the delivery. It’s been good for him.”
We will have to do a late adjustment to our soon to be released mid-season prospect guide, but non-spoiler alert, Hearn was ranked #8. He will no longer be in the book
UPDATE: The player to be named could come up to three weeks later according to TR Sullivan, who covers the Rangers for MLB (news via Adam Berry)
Jerry Crasnick says it’s a lower tier prospect
— Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) July 31, 2018
UPDATE: The Pirates cleared up the contract discussion by saying he’s here through 2020. The mix up comes from him being down for 15 days at the start of 2017. You need to be optioned for at least 20 days at the beginning of the season for it to not count against your service days. So while he was in the majors for 168 days in 2017 when 172 is needed for a full year, he wasn’t down for that minimum of 20 days. Meaning that he gets the full year and reaches free agency at the end of 2020.