Pittsburgh Pirates: Top Five Prospects RHP

Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /
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Pittsburgh Pirates Keller
Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

#4 Mitch Keller

Keller is a six-foot-three 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, a common theme for sure.

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.

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 last year.  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?

The latter seems more likely, and he has proved that this year thus far in Low-A West Virginia.  Keller has been absolutely dominant.  In his first three starts of the season he went 15 innings, compiling 23 strikeouts, walking zero, and not giving up any runs.   However, he just gave up his first runs of the season in his last start on April 27th. With that being said, he was still very good.  He threw six innings, allowing 2 runs, striking out 5, and also allowed only 1 walk.  On the year Keller owns a 0.86  ERA with a K/BB ratio of 28/1.  Obviously his numbers will regress some, but so far so good.

Keller was drafted as a project pitcher.  Keller has the size and arm the profiles as a top-of-the-rotation candidate.  His fastball sits in the 92-95 miles per hour range.  His secondary pitchers are still developing, however you can see in the numbers that they have improved.  He throws an 11-5 curve-ball, the biggest knock was that he did not throw it tight and hard enough.

This year he has made improvements on that and has been more consistent with throwing it.  As with most young pitchers, Keller is still developing a change-up.  If he can continue to show good control and develop his curve and change, he will have three plus pitches.  If he has three plus pitches there is a good chance he could reach that top-of-the-rotation ceiling.  Why is he number four on this list?  First, because the Pirates are so deep in right-handed pitching.  Second, because he is only in West Virginia.  The three players ahead of him are close to the majors.

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