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D-backs sign rotation hopeful Kelly out of KBO

Arizona product flourished in hitter-friendly Korean league
MLB.com @SteveGilbertMLB

PHOENIX -- The D-backs hope they've found their own version of the Cardinals' Miles Mikolas in right-hander Merrill Kelly, who inked a two-year deal with a pair of club options with Arizona on Tuesday.

Kelly will earn $2 million in 2019 and $3 million in '20 and has options for $4.25 million in '21 with a $500,000 buyout and $5.25 million in '22 with no buyout, per Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan.

PHOENIX -- The D-backs hope they've found their own version of the Cardinals' Miles Mikolas in right-hander Merrill Kelly, who inked a two-year deal with a pair of club options with Arizona on Tuesday.

Kelly will earn $2 million in 2019 and $3 million in '20 and has options for $4.25 million in '21 with a $500,000 buyout and $5.25 million in '22 with no buyout, per Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan.

Kelly has never pitched in the Majors, but he drew significant interest from multiple clubs this offseason after a successful four-year stint in the Korea Baseball Organization, which is known to be hitter-friendly. In that stretch, Kelly was 48-32 with a 3.86 ERA, 641 strikeouts and 206 walks in 119 games, including 118 starts. Last season, Kelly helped the SK Wyverns win the Korean Series title.

The Cardinals signed Mikolas out of Japan last year and watched him go 18-4 with a 2.83 ERA in 32 starts.

"Certainly Mikolas is a guy that's on everyone's mind," D-backs assistant GM Jared Porter said. "He had a really strong season. We don't want to set any expectations for Merrill; we're excited to have him and think he's going to impact our Major League rotation next year."

The D-backs have a need for starters after non-tendering Shelby Miller and with Patrick Corbin signing a six-year, $140 million deal with the Nationals, according to MLB.com sources. In addition, Taijuan Walker will miss the start of the season while recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Kelly will join Zack Greinke, Robbie Ray and Zack Godley in the rotation.

A product of Scottdale, Ariz., who pitched at Arizona State, Kelly was drafted by the Rays in the eighth round in 2010 and pitched parts of five Minor League seasons for Tampa Bay affiliates, going 39-26 with a 3.40 ERA and reaching as high as Triple-A for the entire 2014 season, when he was 9-4 with a 2.76 ERA and was named an International League All-Star.

When he initially signed in Korea in 2015, Kelly said he envisioned staying a year, maybe two, making some money and then returning to America. He ended up staying four, and in the process, he transformed himself from a low arm slot pitcher who relied on an 88-90 mph two-seam fastball to one that throws harder and with an expanded repertoire.

"I don't know what my highest velocity last year was, but I know it's been up to 97," Kelly said. "The changeup kind of complements that along with the development of the curveball over there. I think it's made a big difference."

Steve Gilbert has covered the D-backs for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB.

Arizona Diamondbacks, Merrill Kelly