Pittsburgh Pirates Top Prospects: Number One Mitch Keller

(Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
(Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images) /

The Pittsburgh Pirates minor league season is about a month in.  Over the last two months, Rum Bunter has released the top 20 prospects in the organization. Here is number one.

Over the last few years, the Pittsburgh Pirates farm system has been considered one of the best in baseball.  However, after enjoying a period of playoff baseball, and in turn picking lower in the draft, they have seen their system fall toward the middle of the pack.  Still, rankings by scouting websites are not everything.  They have plenty of intriguing prospects who could break out just as much as a team with a top farm system.

With that being said, we have come up with our top 20 prospects for the 2018 season.  The articles will look at each player, starting at 20 and working toward one. So far we have looked at pitchers Clay Holmes at number 20, Gage Hinsz at number 19, Travis MacGregor at 18, and left-handed starter Braeden Ogle at 17.  The first hitter to show up on our countdown was Calvin Mitchell at number 16 and Oneil Cruz at number 15.  Coming in at number 14 was 2017 draft pick Steven Jennings.

Then was a pair of international prospects in right-hander Luis Escobar at number 13 overall and outfielder Lolo Sanchez at number 12.  Right-handed starter and 2010 draftee Nick Kingham came in at number 11.  Hard-throwing left-hander Taylor Hearn came in at number 10 and former first-round pick Kevin Newman at number nine.  Switch hitting outfielder Bryan Reynolds and left-handed hitting middle infielder Kevin Kramer occupied the eight and seven spots respectively.  Number six was third baseman Colin Moran, and number five is a Ke’Bryan Hayes.  Cole Tucker continued the trend of infield prospects inside the top 10.  The number three is 2017 first round pick Shane Baz.  At number two was Austin Meadows, who at one point was the number one prospect in the system. Here is the number one prospect for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Number One Overall

The Pirates drafted Mitch Keller in the second round of the 2014 draft, and he was their third pick that year behind Cole Tucker (24th overall) and Connor Joe (39th overall).  The 6’3″ and 195 pound right-hander from Xavier High School in Cedar Rapids was the 69th top draft prospect according to MLB Pipeline.  The Pirates and Keller came to an agreement for a $1 million signing bonus, about $113,000 above slot value, and Keller forewent his commitment to North Carolina.

Keller has a mid 90s fastball and a curveball that breaks 11-5, which is his best secondary offering.  He gets groundballs at a high clip, 46.9 percent in 124.1 A-Ball innings in 2016, 53.1 percent in 77.1 High-A innings in 2017, and so far 54.7 percent in 34.0 Double-A innings in 2018.

The fastball, curveball, and groundball rates are what make Keller, but his biggest calling is perhaps his command.  Fangraphs has a future value of 70 on the command, and entering this season Keller walked only 6.7 percent of the hitters he faced.

Put the control with his other three strengths, and you get an arm to be excited about.  Fangraphs currently rates Keller as 60 future value, which translates to a number three starter.  With an increase in strikeouts, Keller can blossom into that number two starter mold.

2018 Season

So far this year, Keller has posted a 3.44 ERA in 34 innings for the Altoona Curve, and he allowed six runs (four earned) his last time out on May 9th.  He’s striking out only 20.8 percent of hitters, the lowest rate of his career, and he is walking 11.8 percent of batters, the most since he walked 15.8 percent in 19.2 Rookie Ball innings in 2015.

Next: Strong Start For Deon Stafford

Getting back to form is the first step for Keller, but he will be up to Triple-A Indianapolis by seasons end, putting him on track for a 2019 call up to Pittsburgh.  He’s the next in line to be the Pirates best starter, combine his stuff and prospect status, and he has the makings of a solid Major League pitcher.

*Numbers from Fangraphs