Mitch Keller Named Top Pitching Prospect in Florida State League

Baseball America continued their rankings of the top 20 prospects in each league on Thursday morning. Last week, they had a surprising ranking, with Austin Meadows not making the top 20 for the International League. Tyler Glasnow, who had lost his prospect status before being sent to the minors in June, was actually named their 12th best prospect in the IL. The Pirates came up empty in the Eastern League rankings. The Florida State League rankings today were much better for the farm system.

Mitch Keller was ranked as the third best prospect in the FSL this morning, finishing behind Vlad Guerrero Jr and Bo Bichette, sons of Major League stars, who both played well for Dunedin this year on the left side of their infield. That leaves Keller as the top pitching prospect in the league.

The 21-year-old Keller had a bit of a tough time in Bradenton this season, but the scouting reports are what got him to the top of the list. He made 15 starts and pitched 77.1 innings, posting a 3.14 ERA, a 1.00 WHIP, a .207 BAA and 64 strikeouts. His 1.72 GO/AO ratio was the best of his career. The stats were strong obviously, but Keller missed time with a back injury, and left starts early once due to his back, once due to a bee sting on his forearm and another time after taking a liner off his leg.

Keller would go on to Altoona in early August, where he posted a 3.12 ERA, while holding batters to a .197 BAA and he had 45 strikeouts in 34.2 innings. Keller saved his best performance of the season for the playoffs when he threw a complete game one-hit shutout over Bowie in the first round. He then ended the season by getting the win over Trenton in the Eastern League championship clincher.

Keller showed the same impressive fastball/curve combo we saw last year, commanding his pitches well, while adding a tick to his velocity, which saw him hitting 97 MPH each start last season. This year he was hitting 98 MPH consistently, while topping out at 99 in most starts and even touching 100 MPH in two games. His season isn’t over yet though, as he is currently pitching in the Fall Instructional League and will go on to the Arizona Fall League next month, where he will make up for some lost innings, while working to improve his changeup.

Keller wasn’t the only Bradenton Marauder on the top 20. Three of them made the top ten in the league and one was right behind Keller. Third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes was rated as the fifth best FSL prospect. He didn’t put up huge stats, except for the defensive side, where he set the FSL record for fielding percentage at third base. Managers and coaches in the league rated him as the best infield arm and he also has solid range to go along with the steady glove.

On the hitting side, the 20-year-old Hayes, put up a .278/.345/.363 slash line in 108 games, finishing among the league leaders in both triples and stolen bases. The improved speed, which was shown by him being the fourth fastest player on the team according to multiple speed tests the club does throughout the season, was due to Hayes shedding some weight during the off-season. Expect him to put on some weight this off-season though, which should help his power numbers.

Hayes wasn’t able to lift weights during most of this past off-season due to his back and rib injuries at the end of last season, but he’s going into this off-season healthy, so we should see him fill out some in the upper body. That should help add some power to his game to go along with the ability to get on base and play Gold Glove defense.

The third Pirate in the top 20 was left off the Eastern League list by BA. Cole Tucker was ranked as the ninth best prospect in the FSL, and second among all shortstops, trailing Bichette for the top spot. Tucker hit .285/.364/.426 in 68 games for Bradenton, while leading the league with 36 steals, despite only playing half of a season in the league. He went up to Altoona in July, and after a tough first week, he started hitting the ball well and played spectacular defense.

Unfortunately for Tucker, he injured his hand in the second playoff game and that will likely cost him his chance of playing in the AFL this off-season. Mitchell Tolman has replaced him on the roster, and while players can be replaced during the AFL season, at this time it doesn’t sound like Tucker will play in the league at all. He is currently rehabbing his hand injury at Pirate City.

  • Glad Hayes made it, now if he could only add some power, maybe the Bucs have something.

    • BA described him as “Offensively, Hayes has advanced skills for a 20 year old. He stays inside the ball, steals bases aggressively and efficiently with plus speed, and even led the FSL in sacrifice bunts. He has strong contact skills, but has yet to learn to turn on the ball and hit for loft power.” That’s an excellent foundation from which to build.

      On defense they touted “his agility, soft hands, and plus arm, with one scout calling his defense a plus present major league tool.” The other three 3B in the Top 10 (Vlad Guerrero Jr., Nick Senzel, and Austin Riley) are better EBH, but are rated average at best defensively.

      Very young for the league, but 78% of his hits were singles – definitely needs to improve the number of EBH with emphasis on improving that 2 HR in 421 AB to about 8+ in AA next year. However, nobody in the Top 10 hit many HR’s in Hi A.

      • The FSL skews strongly toward pitching. The league leader in home runs only had 18, and the league leader in doubles only had 34.

  • “…where he will make up for some lost innings, while working to improve his changeup.”

    The Pirates are teaching the changeup in the minors?

  • Bo Bichette- wonder if Bluejays regret passing on Will Craig and Nick Lodolo?

    • Bichette turned down 4 different offers during the draft just so Toronto would draft him. Wish we had players doing that for us.

  • Is there a reason why Tucker was ranked lower than Hayes? (Is it because Hayes played a full season?) I really like both of them but thought Tucker had better season than Hayes offensively (hitting, running).

    Also I can’t wait to see both Tucker and Hayes’ excellent defense!

    • Hard to really say why they have Hayes higher, although I won’t say it was unexpected, because he was ranked higher by everyone coming into the season. The stats in Altoona don’t really help Tucker if you go by what they say about their methods of ranking. So if you just look at FSL performance, you could definitely make a strong case for Hayes.

      Just four spots higher in a 14-team league puts them very close. I would say the gap between Keller and Hayes is much bigger than that between Hayes and Tucker.

      • These three plus Meadows, Escobar are the ones I’m really really looking forward to and I am overly attached to them lol. Here’s hoping Hayes gains some power over the off season.

      • John: With the defensive skills of Hayes combined with his offensive skills which look more like a #2 batter, is it possible the Pirates give him some work at 2B in AA? Tucker SS, Hayes 2B, Bell 1B, and Cruz/Apostel/Castro at 3B?

        If the Pirates are not interested in giving either Luplow or Osuna a look at 3B, Nicky Delmonico for the CWS is showing he can hit for power and average, and is probably blocked in Chicago.