With the offseason pushing towards spring training, prospect lists for the upcoming season have been trickling out. A major site has posted their top right-handed pitching prospects.
MLB Pipeline every season published a top 10 list for every position, splitting the pitchers into right-handed and left-handed pitchers, leading into their top 100 list and their top 30 list for each organization. Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo do the rankings for the site, with Mayo being local to Pittsburgh. The pairs first release was the top 10 right-handed pitchers, one in which the Pirates saw one of their top prospects ranked.
Mitch Keller comes in as the fourth top right-handed pitching prospect in baseball, trailing Forrest Whitley (Astros top prospect who has four plus pitches and Houston was able to keep despite trading for Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole), Casey Mize (first overall pick in 2018, a pitcher I personally am a fan of), and Michael Kopech (one of the headliners in the Chris Sale to the Boston Red Sox and throws 100 miles per hour).
In the description of Keller, the report is,
"“While Keller’s walk rate went up in 2018, some of that came with him trying to do too much when he first got to Triple-A, a stretch where his velocity dipped and he lost some feel for his stuff and delivery. He bounced back to finish strongly, with signs pointing in the right direction as a potential frontline starter with plus stuff and command.”"
The fastball received a 65 grade, curve a 55, changeup a 50, control 55, and overall 60. The fastball projects as plus based on the 65 grade, and MLB Pipeline notes that he sits 93-96 with sink. The curve projects at above average receiving a 55 and it’s Keller’s main secondary pitch. The average changeup (50) still needs work, as Baseball Prospectus notes that it often comes out looking like a two-seam and Fangraphs, along with MLB Pipeline, mention that some of the issues with regards to the command problems in 2018 (9.2 percent walk rate) are partly because of the pitch usage and development process.
The overall 60 grade projects Keller as an above average starter who looks to be a three with the chance of being a two in a rotation, Baseball Prospectus has him as a 60 as well and Fangraphs puts a 55 on the grade.
Keller looks to be ready for a chance at the Major League level, and STEAMER projects the soon to be 23-year-old (turns 23 on April 4th) to a 4.58 ERA, 4.47 FIP, and 19.5 percent strikeout rate in 92 innings. For recent Pirates prospects, here is how STEAMER projected them entering the season before their debut:
|Pirates Top Prospect Projections Pre Debut|
|*Projections From STEAMER’s Archive|
Keller from a scouting standpoint projects as above average, but the numbers paint a different scenario, mainly from the lack of strikeout ability he has shown. The fastball and curveball are there, the changeup is still developing but he ranks as the fourth top right-handed pitching prospect according to one site, and he’s a top two prospect along with Ke’Bryan Hayes in the Pirates system.