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Rays acquire RHP Kevin Kelly in Rule 5 draft for 2022

The Rays also lost LHP Jose Lopez to the Padres

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Kevin Kelly
MLB Pipeline

It was a busy day for the Tampa Bay Rays as they were involved in several selections during the annual Rule 5 draft on Wednesday evening.

Having a cleared a spot on the 40-man roster earlier in the day by trading LHP Brooks Raley to the New York Mets, the Rays were able to make an addition to their roster during the draft. However, when it came time for them to make a selection, they passed.

Instead, the Rays had already made an agreement beforehand with the Colorado Rockies, who had the 6th overall selection in the draft. The Rockies selected RHP Kevin Kelly from the Cleveland Guardians and promptly sent him to the Rays for cash considerations.

Kelly, 25, was originally selected in the 19th round of the 2019 draft by Cleveland. Throughout his career, Kelly has garnered solid strikeout numbers while also possessing good command. However, those numbers declined a bit as he pitched against tougher competition in the higher minor league levels; he finished the 2022 season in Triple-A.

According to Baseball America, Kelly doesn’t necessarily overpower hitters, but still generated plenty of weak contact.

Kelly uses four pitches and two fastball shapes, but primarily relies on his sinker and slider mix. His low-90s sinker is his most thrown pitch, driving groundball contact at a high rate and average whiffs for a sinker. His slider is a mid-70s sweeper with between 15-17 inches of horizontal break on average. None of Kelly’s pitches have power or generate a high rate of swings and misses, but he throws strikes and generates lots of weak contact.

Due to being taken in the Rule 5 draft, Kelly is required to be on the Rays Major League roster for the full duration of the 2023 regular season, otherwise he’ll have to be offered back to the Cleveland Guardians.

“It puts a lot of pressure on that person to succeed. [...] We took him because we think he’s capable of getting big-league hitters out right now. It’s a hard thing to do. It’s a lot to ask of anybody who’s never done it before. But we think he’s capable of it.” - Rays GM, Peter Bendix
[Tampa Bay Times]

The only player chosen from the Rays during the Major League portion of the draft was LHP Jose Lopez, whom the San Diego Padres selected.

Lopez, 23, finished the season in Triple-A (pitching in just 2 games there). Lopez had been in the Rays system since 2016 when he signed with the team as an international free agent. Throughout his minor league career, Lopez has flashed an overpowering arsenal but his command as always held him back. The Padres will look to harness his command and turn him into a weapon out of their bullpen.

Additionally, former Rays prospect RHP Wilking Rodriguez was selected by the St. Louis Cardinals from the New York Yankees. Rodriguez appeared in the Majors for the Kansas City Royals in 2014, but has been out of affiliated ball since 2015. The Cardinals had been unable to acquire him from his Mexican League team previously, so they snagged him from the Yankees, who still held his rights, in the draft.

In the minor league stages of the draft, the Rays selected a trio of right-handed pitchers: Hector Perez, Enmanuel Mejia, and Nelson Alvarez. Meanwhile, they lost infielder Pedro Martinez (whom the team originally acquired in the Jose Martinez trade in 2020) and catcher Michael Berglund.

The Pittsburgh Pirates attempted to take infielder Johan Lopez in the minor league phase of the draft, but were unable to do so since Lopez is currently serving a suspension for PED usage. Hector Perez is the only one of the group with MLB experience, appearing in one game for the Toronto Blue Jays during the 2020 season.