As the Mariners tumble ever further into irrelevancy, we at the site have been scoping out the 2020 draft class to see what bright lights are on the horizon. So far we’ve previewed a trio of polished collegians who could move quickly up the minor-league ladder: Georgia righty Emerson Hancock, ASU slugger Spencer Torkelson, and tooled-up Vandy Boy Austin Martin. We’ve also delved a little into the prep hitter market, with top-flight five-tool outfielder Pete Crow-Armstrong. Today we look at the possibility of the Mariners taking a prep pitcher in the first round; something that hasn’t been done in the Jerry Dipoto era, and hasn’t been done by the Mariners in the past decade [sadly waves hello to Taijuan Walker back in 2010].
Taijuan Walker isn’t a bad starting place with the subject of today’s preview: Jared Kelley, the pride of Refugio, Texas, checks in a couple inches shorter (6’2” or 6’3” compared to Tai’s 6’4”) but with a similarly athletic body that’s already big and strong but promises to become even more imposing on a professional training regimen. Kelley had the top velocity reading at the Perfect Game showcase, clocking in at 98 mph. His fastball is regularly in the mid-to-high-90s with good run and sink, and despite the big velo, his delivery doesn’t look high-effort, his mechanics are clean and repeatable, and he’s able to throw strikes. A former quarterback, Kelley gave up the Friday Night Lights last season to focus on baseball, but kept the cannon arm; scouts marvel at how easily Kelley can run it up to the high 90s.
In addition to the big fastball (95-97), Kelley also comes equipped with two off-speed pitches: a swing-and-miss changeup (81-82) that’s already a serious weapon and a breaking pitch (79-81) that some scouts call a slider but might also be called a slurve. The pitch has reportedly gotten more traditional 12-6 curveball movement lately.
Kelley was one of the standouts in yesterday’s Under Armour All America Classic, one of the premier high school all-star showcases. He collected five strikeouts in his two innings of work.
Perhaps the top prep pitcher in the 2020 #MLBDraft class, @TexasBaseball commit Jared Kelley threw in the #UAALLAMERICA Classic today -- 97 here to get Robert Moore, son of #Royals GM Dayton Moore.— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) July 22, 2019
Watch live: https://t.co/DIgHLklDrk pic.twitter.com/tAi99OQ1l8
Despite breathing fire from the mound, Kelley maintains a cool, composed demeanor, and, he says, constantly checks in with his mechanics to make sure he’s staying balanced, true to the plate, and is disguising his pitches effectively.
Kelley was originally a TCU commit, then committed to Texas, but as one of the top prep arms in the country, if not the top, it’s unlikely he’ll reach any campus next year. Hard-throwing prep pitchers are always a risky proposition, as Tom Verducci argues in an SI article about “Generation Velocity” (although a few of his points—namely hand-wringing about Mackenzie Gore and Mitch Keller’s ERAs—didn’t age well), and the Mariners perhaps don’t pride velocity as much as some other clubs, given the success of velocity-boosting Gas Camp and a mania, at least at the major-league level, for crafty lefties. But even if the velocity alone isn’t the main selling point, the Mariners might be captivated by the promise of Kelley’s changeup, his understanding of pitch tunneling, and his unflappable demeanor on the mound—a skill that is difficult to teach, perhaps even more difficult than an extra few ticks on the fastball.