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Right-handed pitching prospect Mitch Keller reached Double-A Altoona with the Pittsburgh Pirates this summer, despite being just 21 years old (DOB: April 4, 1996) and missing a large portion of the summer season with a back strain that cut into his innings and necessitated a trip to the Arizona Fall League over the last six weeks. When he was healthy this summer, Keller was on point every fifth day, finishing 8-5 with a 3.03 ERA in 23 starts split between Altoona and High-A Bradenton, tossing 116.0 innings and allowing just 84 hits (.202 opponents’ average) and 32 walks (1.00 WHIP) against 116 strikeouts in that span.

In six starts for the Glendale Desert Dogs at the Arizona Fall League after the season, Mitch Keller was even better, finishing 4-0 with a 1.52 ERA over 23.2 innings pitched. In that span, he allowed 19 hits and five walks against 13 strikeouts, representing the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Fall Stars Game along the way. Looking ahead, the righty’s reliable and lively stuff and advanced pitchability beyond his age combine to make him one of the very best young pitchers in the game, and Mitch Keller will have a shot to be a potential frontline big league starter in the coming years for the Bucs. Below, we’ll go a little deeper on his arsenal, share some game video, and discuss projections for the highly-regarded Pittsburgh Pirates prospect.

Mitch Keller Scouting Report, Pittsburgh Pirates — 2017

Dates observed in 2017: Arizona Fall League

Fastball (65)
Free and easy out of the hand, with above-average velocity and good control. Late arm-side life to it and modest sink (and plane) at times, especially when already down in the zone. Shows ability to manipulate pitch with extremely tight, late arm-side run at times, too — could be a nice wrinkle in the future. Pitches primarily off fastball with enough velocity to climb the ladder as necessary. For me at AFL he worked 92-94 consistently and would only flash 95-96 when ahead in the count; remarkably easy access to upper velocity band with easy, free release. Pitch stays hard even through stretch. Velocity: 92-95, T 96.

Curveball (50)
Tight curve with a smaller hump and 11-to-5 break. Tendency to get around the pitch and ‘cast’ it at times, which can leave it slurve-like with less hard/late bite, but feel for depth and plenty of well-executed and sharp breaking balls in the mix, too. Go-to pitch the first time through a lineup, especially against RHH. Primarily uses curve when ahead in the count, but not afraid to pitch backwards with enough feel for control to execute in certain situations. Velocity: 78-81, T 82.

Changeup (45)
In all three AFL viewings, primarily brought out changeup the second time through the order. Straight change with little hump and depth, but consistent arm-side fade with speed differential. Good arm action sells the pitch; not as much of a bat-misser like the curve, but more able to draw weak contact and disrupt timing. Good arm-side look to LHH in addition to being a second-time-through pitch in starts. Ultimately slightly below average for me without notable late life, but enough here to get by as a third offering, especially as fastball/curveball combo continues to improve. Velocity: 84-86, T 87.

Control/Command (60/55)
Above-average on both counts, with control ahead of command at this point, though perhaps not by much. Feel for both sides of the plate; some ability already to back-door fastballs to glove-side corner with late run. Advanced feel for throwing strikes with off-speed pitches; even as both need improvements in consistency and late bite at times, Keller has proven to be competitive in the zone in any count with curveball, changeup. Command profile to work multiple innings and see a lineup multiple times as a starter.

Conventional delivery with high three-quarters release. Long arm swing on the back side shows balls early, especially to LHH. Lands on toe; foot straight to the plate and pointing to catcher at landing. Extremely little head movement through windup and delivery, both from full and stretch. Ability to repeat delivery and release point; low-effort mechanics ideal for role as starter. Tight cluster of 1.49-1.54 times to the plate with runner on first base; long sets and varied holds help him with running game control.

Calm demeanor on the mound; advanced for his age and unfazed by competition at Arizona Fall League. Stays in control of the game even through long/taxing innings; no discernible emotion or anger seen on mound in any viewing at AFL.

Mitch Keller Scouting Report — Pittsburgh Pirates — 2017 Game Video

Mitch Keller Scouting Report — Notes & Analysis

Rated highly on many lists and organizational rankings for good reason, Mitch Keller was especially impressive in representing the Pittsburgh Pirates at the Arizona Fall League. Easy access to velocity and good feel for a sharp hook have the 21-year-old set as one of the more exciting young pitching prospects in professional baseball today, and considering he’s already found some early success in Double-A (albeit across just 34.2 innings over the summer), there’s a very good chance the Pirates will give him a look in the big leagues in 2018. There are some things here to work on, though — namely Keller’s offspeed pitches, both of which flash average or better at times but also struggle to show consistency in late movement and break. The righty on occasion has a tendency to get around his curve, in particular, and try to do too much with it; he’d be best served to throw it even harder and trust his grip, which will give him ample late downward break. It’s clearly been a strikeout pitch for him through the lower minors already, and more consistency and sharpness will continue that trend as he reaches Pittsburgh.

Mitch Keller Scouting Report — Future Projection

Ultimately, Mitch Keller has a shot at being a productive mid-rotation starter with a very good fastball and two serviceable (if not slightly better) off-speed pitches as he develops. He’ll need to find more consistency in both the curve and changeup, as mentioned above, but his command profile and feel for all three pitches immediately sets him apart at this point and bodes well for that development to come. Remarkably easy access to velocity will provide him some margin for error against big league hitters, too. A strong Arizona Fall League season has rightfully propelled Mitch Keller forward after missing time over the summer. Now, there’s no reason he shouldn’t have some impact at the big league level with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2018, and over the next few seasons after that he’ll get ample opportunities to earn a rotation job with development.

Overall Future Potential (Future Value): Rotation future; arsenal and command profile to fit mid-rotation starter (#3) role (55/60)

MLB ETA: 2018


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Bobby DeMuro

Bobby DeMuro is the founder of Baseball Census. A former college and independent league baseball player, he now watches more than 200 games a year working full time for the site. You can follow him on Twitter @BobbyDeMuro for more.

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