2021 draft pick Owen Kellington had a solid season for the Pittsburgh Pirates Low-A affiliate, but what does his potential hold?
The Pittsburgh Pirates took Owen Kellington in the 4th round of the 2021 draft. A high schooler out of Vernoment, the Bucs signed Kellington to an over-slot deal. After an injury-marred 2022 season, Kellington returned in 2023 to pitch a full year and didn’t do too bad.
I wanted to write this article as I mistakenly left him out of ranking Ben Cherington’s high school pitcher picks (I also mistakenly named Termarr Johnson as the only high school pick in the first four rounds of any of Cherington’s drafts, as I had forgotten about Lonnie White Jr.). While Kellington would have ranked last on the list of high school pitchers, let’s take a look at what the future could hold for Kellington.
Kellington’s first full pro season was a mixed bag. He tossed 80 innings, working to a 3.94 ERA, 4.77 FIP, and 1.40 WHIP. Kellington owned a solid 26.2% strikeout rate and 0.90 HR/9; however, walks gave him some issues as he dished out a free pass 14.5% of the time. In Kellington’s defense, he had a much better second half than his first half.
In his final nine outings, Kellingtoned pitched to a 2.86 ERA, 4.01 FIP, and 1.24 WHIP, compared to the 4.76 ERA, 5.35 FIP, and 1.52 WHIP he had in the first half. His strikeout rate of 26.2% was nearly exactly the same as it was in the first half, but his walk rate dropped from over 15% to 13.1%, while his HR/9 rate went from 1.19 to just 0.52-per-9.
Kellington is a junk-baller, and that might be the best way to put it. He relies on movement and spin on his offerings rather than overpowering stuff. His change-up sits with less than 1700 RPM on average. But his curveball comes in with over 2800 RPM. He also throws a slider with 2400-2500 RPM. His primary pitch is a four-seam fastball that only comes in around 89-90 MPH but with above-average spin. On top of that, there’s a large separation in velocity between all his pitches. His curveball is a 74-75 MPH offering, while his slider sits at 78-81 MPH, and his change-up comes in around 82-83 MPH.
The biggest thing Kellington needs to work on is his control. Even though he was significantly better in the second half compared to the first half, you’re still talking about a walk rate a touch over 13% and a K:BB ratio of only 2.00. Kellington’s motion has a lot of moving parts. Maybe a slight simplification of his follow-through, along with shortening his arm up a tad, could help sure up his command. Of course, saying that he should make these tweaks is a whole lot easier than implementing them. I’m not a pitching coach, and I don’t know how Kellington would respond to such suggestions. However, from an outsider’s point of view, these are the two observations I made.
Kellington worked both as a starting pitcher and a reliever in 2023. 18 of his 23 appearances were starts. However, he went at least three innings in three of his five relief appearances. Kellington’s fastball may see a slight uptick in speed if he is moved to the bullpen full-time. Plus, his lackluster command may also play better in a relief role. But I’d see if Kellington can stick in a starting pitcher role for now.
Keep in mind that Kellington is still pretty young. He will likely reach High-A Greensboro next season and will only be in his age-21 season. It’s not out of the question that if Kellington continues to pitch well and/or makes some adjustments and improves his command, he could make his Double-A debut next season.
While Kellington may not have the ceiling like Paul Skenes, Jared Jones, Anthony Solometo, Mike Burrows, or Thomas Harrington, he could still be a solid mid-rotation starting pitcher in the near future. He's still another year from reaching the Majors, at the very least, and it will be interesting to see if he can make the jump from High-A to Double-A, which is arguably the toughest move in the minor leagues. But if he can accomplish that, he may find himself as a mid/back rotation starter or long relief swingman by mid-2025.