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Prospect Watch: Mitch Keller Loses Shutout Streak, Still Pitches Well

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P2 Top 30

A look at how the current top 30 prospects did today.  Note that this list doesn’t include players currently in the majors. If a player is in the majors, he will be removed, everyone below him will be shifted up a spot, and a new player will be added to the bottom of the list. If a player is out for the season, he will be removed and everyone below him will move up a spot. Removing these guys doesn’t mean they have lost prospect status. It is just an attempt to get 30 active prospects on the list. Rankings are from the 2016 prospect guide, and links on each name go to their Pirates Prospects player pages.

1. Tyler Glasnow, RHP, Indianapolis -[insert_php]
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2. Austin Meadows, CF, Altoona – [insert_php]
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3. Josh Bell, 1B, Indianapolis – [insert_php]
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4. Jameson Taillon, RHP, Indianapolis – [insert_php]
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5. Alen Hanson, 2B, Indianapolis – [insert_php]
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6. Harold Ramirez, OF, Altoona -[insert_php]
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7. Reese McGuire, C, Altoona -[insert_php]
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8. Elias Diaz, C, Pirates – Disabled List.

9. Nick Kingham, RHP, Indianapolis – Disabled List

10. Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B, West Virginia -[insert_php]
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11. Kevin Newman, SS, Bradenton -[insert_php]
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12. Yeudy Garcia, RHP, Bradenton -[insert_php]
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13. Steven Brault, LHP, Indianapolis -[insert_php]
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 14. Stephen Tarpley, LHP, Bradenton – Extended Spring Training

15.Cole Tucker, SS, West Virginia – Disabled List

16. Chad Kuhl, RHP, Indianapolis – [insert_php]
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17. Max Moroff, 2B, Indianapolis -[insert_php]
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18. Mitch Keller, RHP, West Virginia -[insert_php]
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19. Clay Holmes, RHP, Altoona – [insert_php]
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20. Willy Garcia, OF, Indianapolis -[insert_php]
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21. Brandon Waddell, LHP, Bradenton – [insert_php]
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22. Tyler Eppler, RHP, Altoona -[insert_php]
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23. Barrett Barnes, OF, Altoona -[insert_php]
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25. Gage Hinsz, RHP,  – Extended Spring Training

26. Adrian Valerio, SS, – Extended Spring Training

27. Adam Frazier, INF/OF, Indianapolis -[insert_php]
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28. Kevin Kramer, 2B, Bradenton -[insert_php]
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29. Jordan Luplow, OF/3B, Bradenton – [insert_php]
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30. JT Brubaker, RHP, West Virginia -[insert_php]
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P2 Top Performers

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Prospect-Watch-Indy

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Steven Brault made his fourth start, coming off five shutout innings with nine strikeouts in his last game. He has had good results this season, albeit with a high pitch count each game. He started with a strikeout on a 3-2 fastball. The next batter was lefty Ryan Flaherty, who laced a single to center field. Brault got the next batter swinging on a curve, but he set it up nicely with a 93 MPH fastball on the inside corner. He picked up his third strikeout of the inning on two straight low fastballs, following a swinging strike on a change-up. Brault threw 15 pitches, 11 for strikes.

The second inning started with his fourth strikeout, this one saw the batter swing and miss and all three strikes. That was followed by another single from a lefty, this one would usually be a routine grounder to third base, but the Indians had a huge shift on and it bounced through the infield. The next batter flew out to left field. The last out came on an inside fastball for his fifth strikeout. Brault already had at least ten swing and misses through two innings. He threw 16 pitches, ten for strikes.

In the third, Brault started with a fly out to right field. He then picked up his sixth strikeout on three straight fastballs, working the inside corner on all three pitches. Brault then worked the outside corner to a lefty, getting a strikeout looking. This was an 11 pitch inning, with eight going for strikes.

Brault started the fourth inning with his eighth strikeout, this one again was a fastball on the inside corner. One pitcher later, he got his second out on a grounder to third base. The third batter hit one to center field that the wind took to right center, where it hit the wall and kicked away from Danny Ortiz for a triple. Brault ended the inning one batter later on a swinging strikeout. Through four, he was at 57 pitches, 39 for strikes.

The fifth started with a swinging strikeout, this time up in the zone. He walked the next batter, though he was right around the plate on every pitch. The next batter lined out to left field. One pitch later, Brault got a fly out to right field. He wasn’t as sharp as the first four innings, but it was still an easy frame. He went five innings or less in all three prior starts, so Brault set himself up well for his longest outing by using 72 pitches through the first five frames.

In the sixth, Brault missed the zone bad on a few pitches before getting a 3-1 line out to center field. He picked up his 11th strikeout on an inside/high fastball. The third hitter of the inning blooped a broken bat single into center field. The inning and his game ended on a fly out to right field. This last at-bat was the only one in which the hitter really battled him.

The Norfolk lineup has seven players with Major League experience, so this was a nice challenge for Brault. He put on a pitching clinic in the first four innings, working both corners of the plate, keeping the ball low in the zone and mixing his pitches well. He wasn’t as sharp the last two innings, but the results were obviously still good. He just left a few pitches up and his control wasn’t as good. He got a ton of swinging strikes, many more than you see in an average game. That happened in his last start as well, though his command wasn’t as good that game. Brault’s 11 strikeouts tied Tyler Glasnow for the most in a Triple-A game this season, with Glasnow’s performance coming yesterday.

This outing by Brault was as good as you will see. Glasnow yesterday and Mitch Keller’s two 10-strikeout games were very impressive, but those were power pitchers doing their thing. This game from Brault was a pitcher picking apart an experienced Triple-A lineup.

Jared Hughes was up next and his day started with a liner to center field. The next batter also lined a single to center. Hughes got the next batter to hit into a 5-4-3 double play, though this ball was scorched. Jung-ho Kang and Alen Hanson both looked good turning that double play. The fourth batter smoked a grounder to the left of Kang that hit off his glove for an infield single. Hughes walked the next batter, before giving up a single that wasn’t hit hard, just a well-placed single against the shift. The next batter singled up the middle to tie the score at 3-3. Hughes got a grounder to end the inning. It was as ugly as it sounds. Hughes allowed more base runners and hard contact in his first inning than Brault gave up in his six innings.

Hughes was scheduled for two innings, so he came back out for the eighth after 20 pitches in the first. He got a strikeout from the first batter. The next hitter grounded out to Gift Ngoepe who was positioned perfectly behind the second base bag. The third batter grounded out weakly to Kang, who made a nice play to get the out. This game was much like Hughes last outing when he gave up runs in his first inning, then breezed through a second frame.

This game ended up going 12 innings after an hour long rain delay, ending shortly after midnight. Indianapolis had the lead until the seventh inning, then took the lead in the top of the tenth and then again in the 12th, but they still lost 7-6. Jorge Rondon took the loss, allowing two hits before walking the last three batters. Brault allowed five base runners in his six innings, while five relievers combined to allow seven runs on 11 hits and five walks in 5.2 innings.

Cole Figueroa hit a two-run homer in the 12th inning for the temporary lead. He had three hits in the game, as did Josh Bell and Adam Frazier. Bell batted from each side of the plate three times, switching sides four times in the game. Frazier showed terrific hustle twice in this game, once scoring from second base on an infield hit and the other time he got a double on a ball that barely reached the outfield grass after the third baseman couldn’t make a diving stop on it.

Jung-ho Kang continued his slump at the plate with an 0-for-4 night, but he has looked better in the last couple games. Early on in the rehab, his timing was way off, with a lot of awkward swings on breaking balls and he swung through a lot of fastballs. The last two games look like much better at-bats each time up. He is 3-for-24 with four walks. His defense has looked good since day one and he made some nice plays in this game.

Prospect-Watch-Altoona-Curve

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David Whitehead started for Altoona and had horrible control issues through his 3.2 innings. He gave up three runs on six walks, two hits and two hit batters. He was missing badly in the first inning, and when he was in the zone, he left a fastball up that got crushed for a double down the right field line, bringing home two runs. Whitehead actually had an easy second inning, but the control problems returned in the third and fourth innings. He threw 78 pitches total in the game, with only 34 going for strikes. In 17.2 innings over four starts, Whitehead has issued 19 walks and hit five batters.

Erie won 10-4 in this game, with Josh Smith allowing six runs after he relieved Whitehead. Four other relievers limited Erie to one run over the final 4.2 innings.

On offense, Austin Meadows played his third game of the season and went 0-for-4 with a walk and a strikeout. In his first at-bat, he lined a ball hard to center field that was right at the fielder playing fairly deep.

Stetson Allie had the big hit for Altoona in this one, driving home two runs with his second triple. After a hot start, he is 4-for-25 in his last eight games. Reese McGuire was 1-for-4 with two runs. He has eight walks and six strikeouts in his first 50 at-bats of the season. Harold Ramirez went 2-for-3 with a walk and an RBI. He raised his batting average to .214 after sitting below .200 almost the entire season.

Prospect-Watch-Bradenton

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Bradenton won 6-1 on Wednesday night, as Austin Coley battled through control issues to go 5.1 innings for the win. Coley had those same issues in his first two starts this season and the results were not pretty, with nine earned runs over eight innings. In his last game, he was throwing strikes and ended up with no walks, two hits and one run over five innings. This game he threw a total of 88 pitches, with 43 going for strikes, yet he still allowed just one run by limiting the damage with men on base. He walked four, hit a batter and gave up three singles. Coley only struck out one batter and his 5:4 GO/AO ratio is average for him. Palm Beach had chances to score in this game, but they went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position.

On offense, Bradenton got two hits apiece from Kevin Kramer and Kevin Newman, while Jerrick Suiter drove in two runs. Suiter doubled for the second day in a row after going the first 18 games of the season without an extra-base hit. Pablo Reyes had a single, walk and scored two runs. Michael Suchy had two walks, a single and scored a run. Jordan Luplow drove in his 12th run of the season, tops on the team. Despite the team hitting well recently, they still had five regulars in the lineup hitting .203 or less at the end of play tonight.

 

Prospect-Watch-WV-Power

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CHARLESTON, WV – The West Virginia Power dropped both games in a double-header today, losing yesterday’s suspended game 4-3, and losing 2-1 in the seven inning game two. The highlight of the day for me was watching Mitch Keller make his fourth start of the year.

Keller came into the outing with 15 shutout innings, along with a 23:0 K/BB ratio in his first three outings of the season. Today was his “worst” outing, but was still pretty good. He gave up two runs on five hits in six innings, with the latter being a new personal best for him. He also struck out five and walked just one.

A lot of the hits were balls that found a way through the infield, or barely dropped in the outfield. He gave up a run after two, two-out hits in the first inning. The first hit was dropped in just fair in shallow right field. The next batter ripped a line drive double to left, which was one of the only hard hit balls off Keller today.

In the third inning, he hit a batter with a two strike curveball, attempting to throw a front door curve against a right-handed hitter, but letting it get away from him a bit. He followed up with a line drive to right field for a single, which put runners at first and third and no outs. Keller did a good job to get out of the inning, giving up the run on a one-out sacrifice fly, but surrounding that with a strikeout and an infield pop out.

“I was just kind of missing up with the ball a little bit today,” Keller said of his outing. “Not too much, but I made pitches when I had to. Guys getting on, on weak contact. I can’t do anything about it, just got to pitch through it. I thought I did pretty well.”

Keller was impressive attacking hitters, throwing 56 of his 77 pitches for strikes, and getting ahead in a lot of counts. He was sitting 92-95 MPH with his fastball, working in the upper part of that range early, and sitting 92-93 in the final innings. He might have thrown three balls total the first two innings, and only had poor control on one batter, when he issued a walk. That’s a massive change from where he’s been in the past, when he hasn’t had the best control. After the game, West Virginia Manager Brian Esposito and Keller both said that the big change for him is his mentality this year, and not letting a few bad pitches or a few bad at-bats ruin the rest of his outing.

Esposito was glad to see him in a situation where he could respond to adversity, which is something Keller hasn’t faced yet during the regular season.

“It was good to see how he was going to handle that,” Esposito said. “We had our first opportunity to see how he handled that, and he handled it great. He did a great job of harnessing his aggression, and translating it back into production again. For me, that’s exactly what you want. It’s what the minor leagues are for.”

This wasn’t the case with Keller in the past, even during Spring Training. Esposito recalled one outing this spring where Keller gave up some damage early, and let it impact him the rest of the start.

“He had an outing where he went out and dominated the first inning, and the second inning all of a sudden they put the wood to him a little bit,” Esposito said of the outing. “He elevated his pitch count, a lot of misfires, wasn’t able to harness his aggression. It certainly took control of his ability to execute. I’ve been waiting to see what was going to happen when or if it ever did happen. Today was one of those opportunities that I think he did a tremendous job of controlling and doing the right thing.”

The West Virginia offense struggled in both games. Alfredo Reyes provided most of the offense in the suspended game, hitting a two-run homer after play resumed. The Power challenged a few times in the second game, and got a run across in the bottom of the sixth. Ke’Bryan Hayes then stole second with two outs, but they couldn’t bring him in to tie the game, and ended up losing 2-1. – Tim Williams

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John Dreker
John Dreker
John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball. When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.

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