The Pittsburgh Pirates desperately need one of their young arms to break out and emerge as a top of the rotation type candidate. It looks like that could finally be happening for one highly touted arm.
Over the last decade, the Pittsburgh Pirates have had some of the highest-rated pitching prospects across the league. Between Jameson Taillon, Gerrit Cole, Tyler Glasnow, and Nick Kingham many thought the team would have one of the best rotations in the National League. They were going to be the answer to New York Mets rotation.
Unfortunately, the rotation never came together the way Pittsburgh Pirates fans had hoped. Cole was dealt away, Taillon and Kingham had injuries stunt their development, and Glasnow looked anything but a top prospect in his short big league time with the Bucs. Essentially, the Pittsburgh Pirates never really developed any of those pitchers into what they could have been in Pittsburgh.
Mitch Keller looked to be on a very similar track to those names above. Another consensus top 25 prospect in baseball, Keller has been viewed as a top of the rotation type arm for some time now. Keller got off to a rough start last year by pitching to a 7.13 ERA in 48 innings pitcher. Of course, this was also under the previous regime, including Ray Searage, who was public enemy number one for the pitching development woes.
However, things did not get off to much better of a start for Keller in 2020. After a bumpy Spring Training, Keller came out and looked ineffective early on. He only made it through 7.2 innings across his first two starts. While he only gave up three runs, he also only struck out three and walked four. What was even more concerning was his velocity. Last year, fans saw him throw his fastball consistently from 95-97 miles per hour. Through his first two starts, he was sitting around 92.
So, it was not surprising when Keller was placed on the Injured List. The fact that his velocity was way down and he was really struggling with command suggested this. Keller was sidelined with “side discomfort” which was positive news for both why he was struggling and for the fact that it was not an arm issue.
Since returning from the Injured List, Keller looks like the pitching prospect we were promised. His first start against the Reds could have been better, he only made it through three innings and gave up three runs while walking four. However, the most important thing was that his fastball velocity was back, he topped out at 97.3 miles per hour and averaged 95.2 miles per hour.
The control issues were to be expected, after all, it was just his third start of the season, and first in over a month. He followed that performance up with the best start of his big league career. Keller took the mound last night against the St. Louis Cardinals and actually had a no-hitter through six innings. Derek Shelton decided to pull Keller from the game, who had thrown 84 pitches, striking out six and walking two. Once again, Keller was flashing the velocity that the Pittsburgh Pirates want to see, topping out at 97.4 miles per hour and sat at 95 once again.
The important thing for Keller going forward is for him to continue to pitch. He has missed some time on the mound over the last two years. With him having such dynamic stuff, including that fastball, it is important for him to get consistency. The more consistency he gets on the mound, the more likely he will be to trust his stuff and develop into the top of the rotation type arm. He showed last night he is very capable of being exactly that.