Pittsburgh Pirates 2016 Top Prospects: #18 – Mitch Keller

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To recap the countdown so far:

20. Willy Garcia, RF
19. Clay Holmes, RHP

We continue the countdown with the number 18 prospect, Mitch Keller.

18. Mitch Keller, RHP

The Pirates drafted three over-slot prep pitchers in 2014, and sent all three of them to Bristol this year. Keller was the first one of the group drafted, received a $1 M signing bonus, and looks like the best prospect of the group, which also includes Gage Hinsz and Trey Supak. However, an assortment of minor injuries limited all three pitchers, and Keller couldn’t escape this bug.

Keller was out at the end of extended Spring Training and the beginning of Bristol’s season due to mild forearm tightness. Due to his age and upside, plus the large amount of Tommy John surgeries the Pirates have had in the last year, you can understand why the Pirates were cautious with him. He returned in August, and had decent numbers, with much better results when you look at his advanced metrics. He was hurt in part due to poor fielding, but it also didn’t help that he issued a lot of walks.

What makes Keller such a good pitching prospect, and easily better than his counterparts in Bristol, is his easy velocity. He sits comfortably in the 91-94 MPH range, touching 95. He also has advanced breaking stuff, with a curveball that has good, sharp break, and good command. He’s learning a changeup, and could still see his velocity increase due to his effortless delivery, easy arm action, and projectable frame.

Keller has dealt with control problems at times, which crept up in August, but looked much better earlier in the season during extended Spring Training. He’s going to have to fix those issues as well, in order to reach his upside.

The Pirates could get aggressive with Keller and send him to West Virginia, although his lack of innings this year might have him on pace for Morgantown. A lot of that could depend on how his control and his changeup fare in Spring Training, since the Pirates won’t want him getting bounced early at the higher level and blowing up the bullpen. He’s got a lot of upside, with the potential to be a mid-rotation guy or better, and the easy stuff and projectability that you can dream on. Keller is one of the best arms to watch in the lower levels.

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  • Sometimes I also worry that these guys will never be ready for the stress of starting pitching. Was it it he or Gage that didn’t throw much in HS?
    Regardless, if we hold him back from low A, we’re going to have to decide about putting him on the 40-man roster after his high A season. And who knows what his innings he would have progressed to at that point 100?

  • No spoilers, but I thought this was a tough ranking for Keller.

    Undoubtedly a disappointing start to his career with so little, if any additional development showing through his first two seasons in the org, but we are still talking about a kid who has posted a higher strikeout rate in rookie ball than Glasnow.

    Keller has the natural ability to spin the breaking ball that they’ll never be able to teach some of the pitchers that will show up in the next few days, and because he can miss bats at a young age I think he deserves a bit of a bump.

    Even still I don’t think you can make a strong argument for or against the positioning of *any* prospect between #5-#20, which probably says as much about depth as it does about quality.

  • Keller comes with all the bells and whistles, and he is young enough to be patient with his development. The best part of this kid is that he has all the tools, throws very loose and without stress, and is just refining his pitches at this point. The Pirates have a rush of kids coming up soon, and it will be nice to have youngsters like he and Gage Hinsz hanging back.

    • Let’s hope Jason Rogers makes us forget about Supak.

      • Good point. The Pirates had too many pitching prospects in front of Supak, but to give he and Broxton for Rogers has to be an indication of how much they wanted Rogers. He had the numbers (SSS) in 2015 that make him look very promising to the Pirates at 3B and a RH hitting 1B option.