Pirates Prospects Daily: Attacking Strike Zone is Key for Mitch Keller’s Recent Success

What a story of perseverance that Mitch Keller has been for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Second round draft prospect turned top prospect turned near bust. Keller has emerged as not only the best pitcher on the staff, but in all of baseball recently.

A little over a year ago a graphic posted during a Pirates game painted Keller potentially one of the worst pitchers in all of baseball.

Fast forward to this season, Keller is again off to a great start, and followed up his first complete game shutout with seven more innings of scoreless baseball on Sunday against the Baltimore Orioles.

One of the expectations out of your best pitcher is to be a losing streak stopper, and in each of his last two start he’s done just that. Keller has ended two separate losing streaks of at least four games this month alone.

The key has been his continuous attack of the strike zone. While he hasn’t been generating a lot of swing-and-miss, he’s still picked up 21 strikeouts over his last two starts, mostly due to a called strike plus whiff rate over 35.7%. 

That number jumps up even more when factoring in just his fastball and sinker, with the two combing for a 45.3 CSW%. 

Keller has slowly transformed himself into a pitcher where you need to account for seven different pitches at times, and when he’s pounding the strike with the fastball/sinker, it makes it even harder to adjust to.

Things haven’t gone well for the Pirates as of late, but Keller is starting to pitch like no matter how else the rest of the week goes, they are going to have a good chance to win games whenever he toes the rubber.

Prospect Notes

— I talked about Jared Triolo the other day and how he might help the Pirates team this year as they search for offensive help.

He picked up three more hits on Sunday, two of which were doubles while driving in four runs total.

Triolo got off to a slow start last year, especially hitting for power. He ended up finishing with one of the best offensive seasons in Double-A when it comes to hits.

— Speaking of players that could help the Major League team, after his spring and World Baseball Classic, it seemed Chavez Young was on the fast track to make a cameo at some point during the season.

Still at Triple-A, Young has had a rough start to the year, but he picked up a couple of hits on Sunday, including his third home run of the season. Two of the three deep shots have come in May. He is 9-of-25 (.360) over this month.

While he hasn’t hit much this year, he still blends an intriguing amount of offensive and defensive ability should the Pirates continue to dig deep in the system for an answer in the outfield.

Daily Video Rundown

Canaan Smith-Njigba drives in a pair of runs on this double in the seventh inning.

This lefty on lefty home run from Mason Martin puts Altoona on the board in the second inning.

Pirates Prospects Daily

By John Dreker

Pirates are off today, as well as the minors, but we will have articles coming up this morning/afternoon

**Speaking of Mitch Keller…Mitch Keller Continues Shutout Run in 4-0 Pirates Win

**Some big offense in the minors on Sunday

**Today’s Pirates Prospects Daily looks at Matt Fraizer

**Our weekly Saturday draft article looks at the clear group of top five prospects and how they are all worthy of a #1 pick.

Song of the Day

This one is by special request

Anthony began writing over 10 years ago, starting a personal blog to cover the 2011 MLB draft, where the Pirates selected first overall. After bouncing around many websites covering hockey, he refocused his attention to baseball, his first love when it comes to sports. He eventually found himself here at Pirates Prospects in late 2021, where he covers the team’s four full season minor league affiliates.

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Some more Termarr stuff….is he turning it around?

‘ Infielder Termarr Johnson, the Pirates’ No. 1 overall prospect, is 7-for-21 with a double, RBI and .391 OBP in his last five games for the Marauders. Johnson has also only struck out twice in his last three games after going down swinging 14 times in his previous six contests.’


As long as he can hit the curve, I ain’t worried. 😅😅😅


I am probably wrong but in the past I think Keller just lacked confidence and as soon as someone drew a walk, then a bloop hit would follow and an error and he was done. Now he is attacking the strike zone and saying here it is I dare you to hit it. Good for him.


Baptize me in a bottle of Beam and put Johnny on the vinyl.


How cool is it that AJ and his buddies were there for Mitch!


No organizational baseball today has me feeling sad




Extension Talks:

Keller’s agents at Excel might logically point to Logan Webb’s recent five-year, $90MM extension with the Giants as a comp for a potential deal for their client. Webb is seven months younger than Keller, but the two have comparable big league service times and somewhat similar resumes as pitchers who went through a rough beginning to their MLB careers before posting consecutive quality seasons…


That is a nice comp with very similar service time. Lucky for us, Keller only has about a year of consistent strong performance whereas webb is in his third consecutive season of very good results. Hopefully that can get us a little lower AAV or maybe an extra year of control


Webb has been better, but maybe some of that is because he has 81 games in SF every year and that is certainly a pitcher’s park…

For me, the bottom line is just to get it done…


Has anyone written the definitive history of Keller’s slider (my religion does not allow me to call it a “sweeper”, which is not a real baseball pitch)?

An absolutely career-saving development. None of the rest really matters without that pitch. It’s devastating and has opened up all his other offerings.

Last edited 20 days ago by NMR

THANK YOU with your comment on the sweeper…I’ve been meaning to read up on what the heck that is and how a new pitch just appeared after 100+ years of baseball.


The nerds strike again!


Simply put, those were the best back-to-back starts I’ve seen.

Blows my mind that the previous administration didn’t have him throw a sinker. He came into the league as basically a 2 pitch guy, 4-seam, curve and a show change that he barely threw. His sinker might be the best pitch in baseball. It freezes the hitter, kinda like JT’s 2-seamer, but better command and velo.


His slider was his most-used secondary from the time he was first called up.

His story is one of baseball’s evolution over the last decade or so.

At the time of his callup the previous admin was being taken to the woodshed for “outdated” pitch development. Sinkers were out, 4-seamers at the letters with an overhand curveball were in.

Keller’s never quite fit perfectly together, though, so he was left in no man’s land for years until finding a breaking ball that missed bats and could be paired with his more naturally tailing fastball, a sinker. That’s now the combo that has overwhelmed baseball to the point that you’re seeing what would’ve previously been considered marginal starter’s just huck them 90-95% of the time.

Last edited 20 days ago by NMR

I thought he added the slider after he was called up?


Timeline is more than a little fuzzy for me this far out, but all the pitch data sources confirm he showed up with one on Day 1.

Little memory I do have thinks it was a pitch they added between his first and second AAA tints prior to being called up after his changeup development stalled out.

Last edited 20 days ago by NMR

Man, it’s all fuzzy on my end as well. I know they tried all kinds of different stuff.

At least they were patient with him and we’re not watching him do this for Tampa.


Multiple places and in multiple conversations before the season I commented that there was a close comparison between Kepler’s first few seasons and Verlander’s.

People don’t realize that Verlander did not strike many batters out in his early 20s.

Verlander didn’t strikeout 9 per 9 innings until his fourth season. His ERA and WHIP were 4+ and 1.3+. He transformed in his age 25/26 season when he figured it out. Keller turned 26 last year and just turned 27. A little later but similar number of starts into his career as verlander’s jump.


Kepler’s first few seasons bear a strong resemblance to Tycho Brahe’s in his assiduous use of comprehensive astronomical data.


Off topic, but good article on Termarr in The Athletic this morn.


I dont subscribe, any chance for a summary or takeaway points?



Wrote about his background. Being the little brother who wasn’t allowed in games. Now he is a hitting Savant. Goes on to talk about his relationship with his older brother, Terrell. His older brother Tervont, who was supposedly better, had his career derailed with an Achilles tear. Termarr is a baseball ‘rat’. Talked about how he consistently hits the ball hard.

These two paragraphs near the end caught my eye:

‘He is walking at an above-average rate but also striking out a whopping 43 percent of the time. He is 18 in Low A, so there is little reason to be concerned yet, but the skid has brought to the fore a few traits that gave evaluators mild pause, at least compared to the hype that surrounded Termarr as an amateur. The talk of Termarr being in the upper echelon of prep hitters in recent decades struck some scouts as a bit overboard. He can really hit, but there was always some swing-and-miss that he’d have to rein in.

That’s not to downplay Termarr’s potential. “The bat speed, the shortness to the ball, the strength and the leverage that he can create and the ability to utilize his entire body in his swing, all of those things were elite, top-notch, absolutely. Sign me up anytime, anywhere,” says one high-level scout. “If the mental aspect kicks in with the elite ability that he has, then you’ve got an All-Star.” And Termarr is hardly blind to the need for improvement. This past winter, he dropped about 10 pounds in the hope of becoming a better defender at second base and keeping his body fresh throughout his first full professional season. He also says the right things about his approach at the plate.’

***But, with his work ethic they seem optimistic that he’ll work thru any issues that he has.

Last edited 20 days ago by leefieux

Wrote about his background.


Keller has been absolutely dominant. While the rotation still has plenty of questions, he is the TOR starters we havent had since frankie or burnett

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