In his last two playoff starts, Mitch Keller has combined for 17 shutout innings on 171 pitches.
He pitched a complete game shutout last night for Altoona on 90 pitches, with just three base runners allowed. He went eight shutout innings in the playoffs last year for Bradenton, needing only 81 pitches that time.
Those two performances don’t make a career, but they provide further reason to dream on Keller’s upside. He was extremely efficient in both outings, averaging about ten pitches per inning, with the rest of the stat line obviously showing his skills. Both starts also came shortly after a promotion to the new level, showing that he was adjusting quickly and not having many issues with the new challenges. Sean McCool recently wrote about this, detailing what Keller had been working on since arriving in Double-A, and how he had settled in just before the post-season.
We’ve been high on Keller every step of the way, and had no issues making him our pick for the top pitching prospect in the organization over Tyler Glasnow heading into this season. The reason is what he just showed. Keller is a special pitcher.
Even though he was a second round prep pitcher in 2014, I’ve likened Keller to an upper first round college guy this year in terms of expectations and the speed in which he could be moved through the system. He would have been eligible for the 2017 draft, and with his skills, probably would have been a candidate for the top overall pick. A guy like that moves through the system quickly, and has top of the rotation upside.
The Pirates have moved Keller quickly through the system, more than any other player before him. No former prep pitcher has been promoted from West Virginia to Bradenton during the season — a list that includes Jameson Taillon, Tyler Glasnow, Nick Kingham, and Clay Holmes. Keller got that promotion.
It was expected that Keller would get a promotion to Altoona at mid-season, despite his age. He went down with a back injury, costing him some time in Bradenton, and putting a promotion at risk. Still, he ended up getting that promotion, and will get time in the Arizona Fall League this offseason to pad his upper level experience.
Barring any injuries, I wouldn’t be surprised if Keller is in the majors at some point in the second half of 2018, and I could definitely see him arriving during the 2019 season. I think he’s going to be another top of the rotation guy, pairing well with Jameson Taillon going forward as a perfect Gerrit Cole replacement.
But Keller isn’t the only potential impact guy in the minors right now. We all know the story with Tyler Glasnow. He puts up electric numbers in the minors, due to his electric stuff. The flaws in his game — poor control being the biggest — don’t show up in Triple-A, but cost him in the majors.
Glasnow has been performing better in the minors lately, and that looks beyond his always-strong numbers to the actual stuff. He deserves another shot in the MLB rotation, and will get that later in September when Indianapolis is finished with the playoffs.
They came a step closer to that last night, losing with Glasnow on the mound to go down 2-0 in a best of five series. Despite that, last night was encouraging, in that Glasnow turned in a strong outing in the playoffs. That hasn’t always been the case for him, as John Dreker pointed out yesterday.
Glasnow has admitted in the past that he lets his adrenaline get the best of him at times, leading to him losing control of his pitches. This would happen when he would reach a new level, and would previously happen in the minor league playoffs. It also happened at times in the majors and during Spring Training. He’s been much better about that this year, leading to his ability to improve his changeup, and work on limiting his control issues.
I don’t know if Glasnow has it all figured out at this point. I don’t know if he’s on track to now reach his top of the rotation upside, or even be a middle of the rotation starter. Only time will tell for that.
What I do know is that Glasnow just turned 24, so he’s too young to be written off. I also know that for about a year and a half, I’ve seen him as a guy who wasn’t ready for the majors, and unlikely to be a big upgrade on the rotation. That played out this year with a 7.45 ERA in 12 starts. I see him in a different light now. I can’t say if he has it all figured out, but I can say that he has shown a lot of improvements over where he’s been in the past when I’ve argued against calling him up. Combine that with him having a ton of upside, and the Pirates have a nice wild card for the rotation going forward.
I still think Keller is the safer bet, and I don’t think it’s close. But with Keller and Glasnow, the Pirates have plenty of upside for their rotation in the future. Add in the depth of pitching in Triple-A, with guys like Steven Brault, Clay Holmes, Tyler Eppler, and so on, and they’ve got a good mix of options going forward to pair with Jameson Taillon, Gerrit Cole, and Ivan Nova — or to replace some of those options when they’ve left.
Prospects aren’t guaranteed, and pitchers are definitely not guaranteed, so I won’t say anything about the quality of future rotations. I will say that the Pirates are in as good of a position as you can be in here, stocking up on a lot of pitching talent, with a few high upside guys. While you can’t guarantee future rotation success with prospects, you can certainly greatly increase your chances of future success with the recipe the Pirates currently have.