#16- Mitch Keller, Starting Pitcher
The prized possession in the Pittsburgh Pirates minor leagues over the last two seasons or so has been Mitch Keller. Keller has been under the prospect microscope since he was drafted in the second round of the 2014 draft. The prep pitcher from Iowa received a large signing bonus of $1 million, which was well over the slot value for the spot in the second round.
Keller’s career got off to a slow start pitching in the Gulf Coast League during that same summer. Then the next year he was sent to Short-Season A and dealt with forearm tightness during the season. However, 2016 things started to turn around and he spent all season but one start in Low-A, throwing to a 2.46 ERA in 23 starts. Then in 2017, he pitched between High-A and Double-A combining for a 3.13 ERA between the two levels.
This past season was a big test for Keller. He was finally in the upper minors and did not disappoint. He started the year in Double-A throwing 86 innings in 14 starts. Keller was absolutely dominant in those starts pitching to a 2.72 ERA. Like Hayes, Keller was elected to the Futures Game. The difference between Keller and Hayes was that Keller was promoted Triple-A Indianapolis.
At Triple-A, Keller had a rough start. The righty threw one game in June at Triple-A and gave up nine earned runs in just 2.2. innings. He followed that up with an ERA over 5.00 across 3 starts in July. He got back to normal in August and pitched to a 2.86 ERA in six starts down the stretch.
This was much more encouraging to see for one of the top pitching prospects in baseball. This also has been a trend for Keller who has seemed to start slow at every level when he has been moved up. Regardless, Keller has a fastball that reaches the high 90s and really good command leading him to be a Top 20 prospect in baseball.