The Pittsburgh Pirates top prospect is set to make their 2019 Grapefruit League debut on Tuesday afternoon
Entering Spring Training the biggest storyline for the Pittsburgh Pirates is the battle for the final spot in the team’s starting rotation. While the team has battles going on for spots on the bench and in the bullpen, none of these spots will have as big an impact on the 2019 Bucs than the fifth starter.
This spring, Steven Brault, Nick Kignham, and Jordan Lyles are battling for the final spot in the team’s rotation. Brault started the team’s Grapefruit League opener on Saturday and struck out a pair of Phillies in two scoreless innings of work. This was also the first time Brault got to use his new delivery in game action.
On Sunday, Kingham got the start against the Miami Marlins. Like Brault, Kingham pitched two scoreless innings. Also like Brualt, Kingham had to work around a 1st inning jam that included an error.
Monday afternoon it was Lyles turn. Against the defending World Series Champion Boston Red Sox, Lyles allowed just one hit in two innings of work. The problem is the hit he allowed was a solo home run to Bryce Brentz. He also issued a walk and struck out a pair.
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Regardless of wins the team’s fifth starter job, with Lyles being the heavy favorite, it may just be as a placeholder. This is due to the team’s top prospect looming at Triple-A. This prospect is starting pitcher Mitch Keller.
On Tuesday afternoon, Keller will make his 2019 Grapefruit League debut. While Keller will not make the Opening Day roster, he still has the opportunity to impress this spring. Similar to Gerrit Cole during Spring Training 2013 and Jameson Taillon during Spring Training 2016.
At some point this summer Keller will be in the Pirate starting rotation. On top of being the Pirates top prospect, Keller is one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball. When he arrives in the Big Leagues, the Pirates will have three ace caliber starting pitchers in Taillon, Chris Archer, and Keller.
After a pair of rocky starts following his promotion, Keller finished the season strong at Triple-A in 2018. In his final six starts last season Keller posted a 2.86 ERA, 2.84 FIP, a 22.2% strikeout rate, and a 7.4% walk rate in 34 2/3 innings pitched.
Keller being on the mound will make Tuesday’s Grapefruit League match up between the Pirates and Twins one worth keeping tabs on during your work day. In addition to Keller, bullpen candidates Michael Feliz, Tyler Lyons, and Brandon Maurer are all scheduled to pitch for the Pirates on Tuesday afternoon. JT Brubaker, who will join Keller in the Triple-A rotation, is scheduled to pitch as well.
First pitch from Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers is scheduled for 1:05 PM.