Three Breakout Candidates For The Pittsburgh Pirates In 2019

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Pittsburgh Pirates
Pittsburgh Pirates /

Pitcher Mitch Keller

This is an obvious one. Starting pitcher Mitch Keller is not just the Pirates’ top prospect, but he is also one of the top prospects in all of baseball. MLB Pipeline ranks Keller as the 16th best prospect in all of baseball, he is also in the top-20 for both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus.

Keller owns an explosive fastball that can reach the high 90s. He also throws a plus curveball, has excellent command, and is working on a changeup that has the potential to be a plus pitch as well. The changeup is what will be key for Keller to help him neutralize left-handed hitters.

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The 22-year-old Keller will start the 2019 season the same place he ended 2018 – Triple-A Indianapolis. Keller stared the year with Double-A Altoona before being promoted to Indianapolis in July. After a slow start with the Indians Keller finished strong posting a 3.09 ERA, 2.78 FIP, and a 23.2% strikeout rate in his final eight starts of the season.

The odds of Keller making his MLB debut prior to the Super 2 date passing in early June are very slim. And, odds are, if he does debut before that date passes then he will return to the minors at some point during the summer to prevent reaching Super 2 status.

Having Keller waiting in the wings could also impact how Neal Huntington and the Pirates tackle the remainder of the offseason. Due to confidence in Keller, it is possible the team does not sign or trade for a fifth starting pitcher but instead rolls with an opener early in the season.

The team would be better served adding another starting pitcher, but that is far from a guarantee. Keller waiting in the wings is part of the reason why it is not a guarantee.