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Kela healthy, looking forward to '18 season

Rangers right-hander ready to compete for bullpen opportunity
Special to MLB.com

FRISCO, Texas -- Rangers right-hander Keone Kela has had a baseball-rich offseason.

He spent nine days in November in China visiting a pair of Major League Baseball Development Centers, working with players ages 8 to 19. That was also the same month Kela had a stem cell treatment, with marrow from stem cells removed from his right hip and placed in his right shoulder in a bid to keep him healthy in 2018.

FRISCO, Texas -- Rangers right-hander Keone Kela has had a baseball-rich offseason.

He spent nine days in November in China visiting a pair of Major League Baseball Development Centers, working with players ages 8 to 19. That was also the same month Kela had a stem cell treatment, with marrow from stem cells removed from his right hip and placed in his right shoulder in a bid to keep him healthy in 2018.

With his busy offseason nearly behind him, Kela is ready to go.

"There's a lot of opportunity," said Kela, who was joined by several teammates during the Winter Caravan stop at the club's Double-A affiliate on Saturday. "I've had a lot of people ask me different questions about where I'm going to be. I don't assume anything. I believe in our manager [Jeff Banister]. I believe he's going to put me in the best position I need to be. We have a bunch of great guys that I really feel care about each other."

Kela cares a lot about baseball, which is why he flew 16 hours to China and worked with approximately 90 youth baseball players along with MLB director of baseball development Rick Dell in Asia, and MLB Development Center manager of business operations Simon Huang.

While Kela didn't speak the language, baseball is universal and Kela was impressed by what he saw.

"The whole thing with China that I took away from it personally was just their passion for the game," he said. "There's such a language barrier, but at the end of the day, we spoke baseball. I got to see these guys play a game that I love that's changed my life. They played with intention. They played with conviction, and they had expectations of themselves and who they wanted to be. I thought that was awesome. These are kids that haven't had anyone that's a staple."

Video: Jeff Banister discusses improving the bullpen

Kela believes the sport will become bigger in China once the country has a breakout star in the United States, and he compared it to the impact Yao Ming had on basketball with his success in the NBA. While China hasn't had that moment yet, the talent is there.

"They have really good hands," Kela said. "China's pretty good at ping pong so you can imagine they've got quick hands, soft hands. You can see kids pick and get after it. There are some decent arms. The one thing that I saw just playing baseball was just the development of hitting and power. But the technicalities are all there. It's just who is going to be the first one."

The overseas trip wasn't all baseball for Kela. He visited five cities, rode a bullet train and went to the Great Wall of China.

Kela has also focused on his health this offseason. He was one of the most effective relievers in the game during his time with the Rangers in 2017. Opponents hit just .135 against him, with that number dipping to .079 with two strikes. That would have been the second-best mark in the American League if Kela would have qualified. But he started '17 at Triple A because of an incident in Spring Training, an action that Kela said has made him a better teammate and man. He also had two stints on the disabled list for shoulder soreness, which limited him to 39 appearances with the Rangers. He went 4-1 with a 2.79 ERA and two saves.

The desire to stay healthy led to the stem cell procedure.

"That's the biggest thing I want to give, not only to myself, but the fans and organization, is to continue to go out there and battle," he said. "That's the biggest thing. Kela can do well. He knows how to pitch. Can he stay healthy? My rookie year [2015] was the year I was able to stay healthy and you saw what I did [7-5, 2.39 ERA, 68 games]. That's the biggest thing I focused on. To have longevity in anything, I have to have my health."

Anthony Andro is a contributor to MLB.com.

Texas Rangers, Keone Kela