Pittsburgh Pirates Spring: Mitch Keller Struggling Early On

(Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
(Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images) /
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The Pittsburgh Pirates are a couple of weeks into their spring training schedule.  Here is an update on the team’s top pitching prospect.

Entering spring training, one of the more intriguing things to watch was going to be the Pittsburgh Pirates pitching staff.  Even more so, the team and fans were going to get a look at top pitching prospect Mitch Keller.  Keller ranks as MLB Pipeline’s number one overall prospect for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Also, he ranks as the number 19 overall prospect along with being the number four right-handed pitching prospect.

With all those high rankings, the expectation for Keller is very high.  Keller reached Triple-A last season and had a rough start, but pitched very well during his final five starts or so.  So with that, the expectation is for the Pittsburgh Pirates top pitching prospect to be up by June of this season.  This is especially true with the team’s number five pitching spot being questionable, with pitchers like Nick Kingham, Jordan Lyles, and Steven Brault not exactly pitching well.  Still, Keller has Super-Two status meaning the team will roll with one of the other options first.

Furthermore, Keller is not doing himself any favors.  Just like last year when Keller got moved up to Triple-A, he is once again having a tough beginning to a new start.  He has made two starts so far this spring and he has not made it past the first inning in either.  In total, Keller has completed two innings and has given up six earned runs.  The former second-round pick has walked two batters and has not struck anyone out.  Opponents have a batting average of .545 and a WHIP of 4.00.

The first start came against the Minnesota Twins.  Keller gave up two runs on three hits in his opening inning of work this spring.  The twins had a few regulars in the lineup with Max Kepler, Jorge Polanco, and Eddie Rosario at the top of the lineup.  The second start was yesterday against the Rays, who had even more regulars in their lineup.  The Rays had seven potential starters in their lineup including Kevin Kiermaier, Avisail Garcia, and former top prospect Willy Adames.  So these were legitimate lineups that Keller had to face in the early going.

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Could this be a similar situation to what he went through last year when he was promoted to Triple-A?  Maybe, he is one of those players that always seems to struggle when pitching at a new level. Hopefully that is the case and Keller is working on getting comfortable and used to the higher level competition.  The Pittsburgh Pirates need him to become the top pitching prospect that he is supposed to become.