The Pittsburgh Pirates, amid a surprising season after seemingly beginning to tear it down this preseason, have solidified the back of their bullpen by acquiring Keone Kela from the Texas Rangers.
The Pirates have acquired RHP Keone Kela from the Texas Rangers in exchange for two players to be named later.— Pirates (@Pirates) July 31, 2018
Kela has recorded 24 saves in 25 opportunities while also posting a 3.44 ERA (36.2ip/14er) and 44 strikeouts in 38 appearances with the Rangers this season. pic.twitter.com/mtrthr0jfh
Kela came into his own this season as the Rangers closer. The 25-year-old righty had converted 24 saves in 25 chances in Texas, posting a 3.44 ERA and 1.15 WHIP while striking out 10.8-per-nine. He heads to a Pirates bullpen that is three games over .500 and very much alive in the National League Wild Card race.
What did the Rangers get in Taylor Hearn?
Hearn is 23 years old. He’s a big lefty, listed at 6’5” and 210 pounds. He was drafted out of Oklahoma Baptist in the fifth round of the 2015 MLB Draft. After splitting time between the bullpen and rotation with decent success in the GCL, NYPL and South Atlantic League, the Nationals shipped Hearn and Felipe Rivero to the Pirates for Mark Melancon.
He found immediate success with West Virginia and struggled the following season in the Florida State League in 2017 before hitting the disabled list in July and being shut down until September. He was enjoying a breakout season in Altoona of the Eastern League, earning his first All Star nod of his career.
Our own John Sickels had Hearn ranked the 11th-best prospect in his Pirates preseason Top 20. Here’s why:
Age 23, fifth round pick by Washington Nationals in 2015 from Oklahoma Baptist University, traded to Pirates in 2016; posted 4.12 ERA in 87 innings in High-A with 106/37 K/BB, 65 hits; eye-turning if you see him in person, athletic lefty with 90-98 MPH fastball, flashes plus slider and average change-up; looks impossible to hit on the right day but is inconsistent due to mechanical/command problems and frequent injuries; I really like his upside but the risks are high as well; ETA 2020.
As mentioned above, Hearn comes with injury risk, missing the second half of 2017. He’s played injury free this season, and the results have shown that. He fires a big fastball that sits in the upper-90s and he keeps hitters on edge with an above-average changeup with nice separation in its velocity. The breaking ball, a slider, is plus when on, but he lacks the consistency leaving it as a questionable pitch at the upper levels.
Hearn is still learning life in the rotation, as many once saw him as a reliever. If he can find consistency in his secondary offerings, he looks like he has the athleticism to stick in the rotation.
Hearn has made 19 starts this season. After an abysmal April (5.75 ERA, 20:8 K:BB over 20.1 innings), Hearn has looked untouchable and elite at times since. He had a very nice July with Altoona, posting a 2.70 ERA and 1.03 WHIP. Overall on the season, Hearn is 3-6 with a 3.12 ERA, striking out 107 in 104 innings pitched while walking 38. He’s posted a 1.09 WHIP and .198 batting average against and has been going deep into ball games, particularly of late. His last six starts have seen him go into at least the sixth inning, throwing at least 90 pitches in each one. He doesn’t seem to overpower either lefties or righties, but does allow quite a bit of fly balls and pop to righties.
It’s a nice get for the Rangers. This is a team that is not very deep with prospects on the mound and Hearn gives them a wild card at the very least. It will be interesting to see what the Rangers view Hearn as, whether they see him as the reliever he once was or want to continue the starter experiment. There’s little reason to abandon hope as a starter now, but they know they have a nice backup plan if it should fail.