Breakout Prospect to Watch: Will The Pirates’ Mitch Keller Emerge In 2017?

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

When we think about Pittsburgh Pirate pitching prospects (or young pitchers in general) there are a few names that come to mind, and that doesn’t include Gerrit Cole…

Tyler Glasnow…
Jameson Taillon…

Maybe even Chad Kuhl, but few will think of Mitch Keller.  A second round pick in 2014, he didn’t throw many innings over his first two seasons due to forearm issues.  Finally seeing significant time on the mound (he made 24 starts total, 23 of which came at Single-A), Keller showed upside and the ability to be a potentially dominant starting pitcher (the following numbers are during his time at Single-A):

124.1 IP
2.46 ERA
0.92 WHIP
9.48 K/9
1.30 BB/9
1.05 GO/AO

The first number that jumps out at you is his control (overall he had 19 walks over 130.1 IP in ’16), though the potential is there for the 6’3” right-handed to produce in all three categories we look for.  He has shown decent groundball stuff overall (1.17 GO/AO over his minor league career), but the potential is there for more.  According to MLB.com:

“When he’s not trying to overthrow, he has good sink on it, with the potential to be a ground-ball machine.”

The strikeouts were solid as well, and he already possesses a good repertoire that should only get better.  Here’s how Rich Wilson of Prospect 361 described his stuff:

“Keller arsenal starts with a fastball that sits 91 to 94 MPH with a heavy sink.  He’s still growing into his body, so there’s a chance that his velocity could take a tick up a mile or two as he matures.  Also his 1.25 ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio is not totally representative of his heavy fastball.  I think over time, that ratio will improve.  His best secondary pitch is his curve ball.  It has nice deception and best of all, he can throw it for strikes.  He doesn’t throw his change-up very often but it has a chance to be at least an average offering.”

Still just 20-years old, it’s easy to imagine him continuing to develop physically.  Listed at 195 lbs. the idea of additional velocity is fair.  He also should be able to fine-tune his change-up, as he gains experience and comfort with the pitch, which would make him that much more dangerous.

The Pirates are generally viewed as conservative with how they develop their prospects, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Keller reach Double-A in 2017 and potentially make his MLB debut in 2018.  There’s still a little bit of projection, but there’s clearly a lot to like.

It may take time and the past arm issues obviously continue to loom, but at worst he should develop into a #3-4 starter.  If he adds a mph or two to his fastball and can develop his change-up, he could be even more than that.  While you can argue that he “broke out” in 2016, in 2017 he could really develop.

Sources – Fangraphs, MILB.com, MLB.com, Prospect 361

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Grading System:
Grade A – Elite Prospects (aka potential future perennial All-Stars)
Grade B – Above Average Prospects (aka above average Major Leaguers, could develop into a potential All-Star)
Grade C – Average Prospects (aka solid, though unspectacular)
Grade D – Nothing More Than Roster Filler
Grade F – Move On

Make sure to check out all of our 2017 Prospect Rankings:

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