Pittsburgh Pirates: It’s Time For Mitch Keller to Sink or Swim

Mar 1, 2021; Dunedin, Florida, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Mitch Keller (23) pitches in the bottom of the first inning during spring training at TD Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 1, 2021; Dunedin, Florida, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Mitch Keller (23) pitches in the bottom of the first inning during spring training at TD Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports /
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While Mitch Keller has minor league options and is struggling this spring it is time for him to sink or swim with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2021

Entering the 2019 season Mitch Keller was one of the top pitching prospects in baseball. This had the fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates excited about Keller’s future with the Bucs and had fans tuned in when he made his MLB debut in May 2019 against the Cincinnati Reds.

From the get go Keller’s career with the Pittsburgh Pirates got off to a slow start. He allowed 6 earned runs in 4.0 innings of work in his first career start, with 5 of these runs being allowed in the 1st inning. Unfortunately, these struggles were a sign of things to come.

Keller has now made 16 MLB starts, he was limited to just 5 starts in 2020 due to injury, and has pitched 69.2 innings. In these 69.2 innings of work Keller owns a 5.81 ERA and a 4.30 FIP. He’s walked 10.8% of batters faced, struck out 25.8% and has allowed home runs at a rate of 1.29 HR/9.

All of this is obviously a small sample size. These sample sizes were also manipulated by batting average on balls in play in both of his MLB seasons. An unsustainably high .475 BAbip in 2019 led to a 7.13 ERA for Keller despite posting a 3.19 FIP. Then in 2020, his BAbip was an unsustainably low .104, leading to a 2.91 ERA despite a 6.75 FIP, 1.66 HR/9 and a 20.8% walk rate.

So far this spring Keller has struggled. While this is just Spring Training, and it’s another small sample size, the struggles from Keller are a red flag. The reason they are a red flag is due to his overall struggles in his two seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

With Keller struggling and him still having minor league options, there is a debate to be had about Keller potentially starting the season in the minors. However, at this point, Keller is a pitcher with nothing left to prove in the minor leagues. It is time for Keller to sink or swim with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Health permitting, the 2021 season will be Keller’s first full MLB season. Even if he struggles again this season, odds are, the Pirates will still give him 25-30 starts to prove himself. With a plus power fastball, a plus curveball and a slider with limitless potential, Keller has all the tools needed to be the top of a rotation starting pitcher. Now it is up to him to put it all together.Although, yesterday site expert Nick Caporoso mentioned that Keller’s stuff looks better than it actually may be, take a look here.

Next. Three Pitching Prospects Turning Heads This Spring. dark

The Pittsburgh Pirates need to let Keller sink or swim in 2021. As long as Keller is healthy he needs to be taking the ball every fifth day. If he struggles throughout the season then the Pirates know he is not part of their long-term plans. If Keller can begin to turn it around and pitch well, then Keller could be a building piece. Either way, it is time for Keller to sink or swim with the Pirates and for the Pirates to figure out what they have in the young right-handed starting pitcher.