After struggling with the Pittsburgh Pirates righty Mitch Keller was demoted to the Triple-A level where he has been pitching well
At one time Mitch Keller was viewed as the future ace and rotation anchor for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Unfortunately, things have not gone as planned for Keller or the organization since he made his debut with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2019.
Keller has pitched 117 MLB innings in 28 starts. In these 117 innings pitched Keller has posted a 6.31 ERA, 4.57 FIP, 11.6% walk rate, 24.4% strikeout rate and he has allowed home runs at a rate of 1.31 HR/9. It goes without saying that all of these numbers are poor.
This season Keller made 12 starts for the Pittsburgh Pirates before being demoted back to the Triple-A level. Keller pitched 47.1 innings in these 12 starts, posting a 7.04 ERA, 4.96 FIP, 12.7% walk rate and he allowed home runs at a 1.33 HR/9 rate. Again, not good!
Opposing batters were also tattooing the ball off of Keller. His average exit velocity of 91.1 MPH was 1.9 MPH higher than the league average, his 8.3% barrel rate was 0.7% higher than league average and his hard hit rate of 48.3% was 5.9% higher than league average. Once again… not good!
Keller’s struggles were not due to a lack of an ability. While Keller does not have the stuff that you would expect from a former top-25 prospect in all of baseball, his fastball and curveball can still be plus pitches. His fastball spin rate has been in the 66th percentile of baseball while his fastball velocity is in the 68th percentile. Additionally, his curveball sits in the 72nd percentile of baseball. While Keller’s stuff may not be elite or that of a top of the rotation arm, it is more than good enough for him to be a good MLB starting pitcher.
At the Triple-A level the biggest thing that Keller needed to work on was increasing his confidence and becoming more commanding on the mound. The hope was this would lead to Keller pounding the strike zone and trusting his stuff more.
Since going back down to Triple-A it appears that Keller has become more aggressive and assertive on the mound. Keller has made 3 starts for Indy and pitched in 5 games. In these 5 games he has pitched 14.2 innings, allowing just 3 earned runs (1.84 ERA) on 11 hits and no home runs allowed.
Most encouraging of all the control for Keller has been strong. He has walked just 4 batters (6.5% walk rate) and has hit just a single batter. Keller has also struck out 16 batters in 14.2 innings pitched, giving him a healthy 25.8% strikeout rate.
While it is dangerous to put too much stock in Keller’s performance at Triple-A the early results are encouraging. Keller is going to have to prove it I the Majors when he returns to the Pittsburgh Pirates, but the first step to doing this is pitching well for Triple-A Indy which Keller is currently doing.
With Keller pitching well at the Triple-A level, odds are, he will get another opportunity with the Pittsburgh Pirates this. Creating an opportunity for Keller should not be difficult, either. Tyler Anderson will likely be traded before the July 30 trade deadline, and both Chase De Jong and Wil Crowe have struggled this season. Chad Kuhl could be on the trade block, too. Keller’s second chance with the Pirates could come sooner rather than later.