Pittsburgh Pirates Prospect: Mitch Keller’s Growth as a Prospect
Pittsburgh Pirates prospect Mitch Keller entered the season as a borderline top 12 prospect in the Bucs minors. Mitch Keller put together a very strong season and raised his prospect status.
Keller is a 6’3” and 195 pounds pitchers who ranks number 13 on the site’s prospect rankings. Keller was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2nd round of the 2014 MLB Amateur Draft, in which he was ranked as the 65th best prospect. He was drafted out of Xavier High School in Iowa. With that, the now 20 year-old, signed for a bonus of one million dollars which was over slot value.
He was committed to University of North Carolina. Obviously, the Pirates were able to sway him to not attend there, and he started pitching in the organization at the end of 2014. Keller profiles as a classic Neal Huntington pick. A big, projectable, right-handed prep pitcher who the Pirates believed that they could develop into a top prospect (i.e. Tyler Glasnow, Nick Kingham, Clay Holmes).
First Two Years
As I mentioned above, Keller got his first taste of big league action towards the end of the 2014 season. Keller made nine appearance for the Pirates’ GCL affiliate, including eight starts. He was very good in those games throwing to a 1.98 ERA. In some of the more advanced stats he had a 1.17 WHIP, a 2.2 k/bb ratio, and held batters to a low .202 batting average. People were intrigued by him after posting nice stats in his first year, many wanted to see what he could do in his first full season during 2015. Unfortunately, Keller did not get to throw much in 2015.
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Leading into his second season he started to have tightness in his forearm. Rather than risk causing structural damage, the Pirates decided to hold Keller off most of the season. The righty only made 6 starts in 2015. One could see that the time off effected his pitching. In his shortened season he threw to a 5.98 ERA with a 2.02 WHIP and a low 1.56 k/bb ratio. Was Keller facing tough competition or was he struggling due to the time off? Most likely it was not getting to be able to be in a routine. With that, many where hoping to see Keller progress in the 2016 season.
Keller did exactly that with the Low-A West Virginia Power. The now 20 year-old was absolutely dominant in all of 2016. Through his four starts in April, Keller, had a record of 2-1 with a 0.86 earned run average. This impressive month was backed up by him recording 28 strikeouts to just one walk in 21 innings.
Obviously Keller was not going to keep this up all season, but he still had one of the best seasons out of any pitching prospect in baseball. He made 23 starts for the West Virginia Power and pitched 124.1 innings. In his career high in innings pitcher, he posted a 8-5 record with a 2.46 earned run average. He also posted 131 strikeouts in his 124.1 innings pitched while only walking 18! Finally, Keller was promoted to High-A Bradenton for his last start of the regular season and their playoffs. He was also very good for the Marauders in his three starts. His best was his winning performance during the Championship series when he threw eight innings of shut out ball.
All in all Keller had a very dominant year. Not only did he give up limited runs and strikeout a lot of hitters, but he also showed amazing command. The fact that he only walked 18 hitters in his 124.1 innings pitched is remarkable. He also carried his velocity deeper into games than in years previous sitting 92-94 mostly. Because of his strong season scouts started to notice him. He has now turned into the Pittsburgh Pirates number five overall prospect while now being considered a consensus top #80 prospect in baseball. Entering the year many viewed him as a potential #3 type starter. However, after seeing his improvement in his three pitcher mix, his command, and his all-around development the ceiling is a #1-#2 type arm. Looks like the Bucs are developing another premium pitching prospect who will likely be ready during the 2018 season.
Also, stats courtesy of Baseball Reference
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