Mitch Keller gives Pirates fans a chance to exhale

Mitch Keller powered the Altoona Curve to the Eastern League championship. In the process, he may have renewed Pittsburgh Pirates fans’ faith in the team’s minor league pitching pipeline.

Mitch Keller — the Pittsburgh Pirates’ number one pitching prospect and MLB Pipeline’s number 19 prospect overall — was named the Eastern League playoff MVP last night. He earned that nod due to a pair of fantastic performances, including pitching 7.1 strong innings in last night’s championship clincher. Keller overcame a rough start to tally eight strikeouts against just 1 walk, issuing 11 groundball outs in the process.

This, on the heels of a six-inning, 11 strikeout, zero earned run performance in his previous playoff start against the Bowie Baysox.

Aside from the championship itself, Pittsburgh Pirates fans likely exhaled at Keller’s performance. You see, just the night previous, their hopes to see another highly-touted Pirates pitching prospect begin to put the pieces together were dashed. Yes, Tyler Glasnow had a rough go of things on Wednesday night, and his struggles served as kindling for the fire that is organizational criticism.

Polar opposites

In many ways, Mitch Keller and Tyler Glasnow are total opposites.

Glasnow is physically imposing. The 6’8″ 220 lb Californian strikes quite the figure on the mound, and his frame aids him in nearly every way. The book on Glasnow is a very familiar refrain at this point.

He needs to improve control. He needs a third pitch. He’s a headcase.

Keller is no slouch at 6’3″, 198 lbs, yet he, too, is imposing in his own right. He has enough velocity to hang with major league bats. The book on Keller is still being written, but the pages thus far have been tantalizing.

He has shown great control. He already has a third pitch. He has a commanding presence on the mound.

The point is, sometimes you just don’t know

Grady, you don’t have special powers. You don’t have the ability to look at a guy and “just know” because you’re a scout with special powers. I’ve watched you sit at kitchen tables for years and tell the parents of a 17 year old kid, “Trust me, when I know, I know, and when it comes to your son, I know” and you don’t.

I thought of this quote from the film version of Moneyball when I thought up this piece.

Analytical analysis, accompanied by scouting — which still has a place in the game –and development can only do so much. In the end, you just don’t know if a player will pan out.

Both Mitch Keller and Glasnow were not surefire first-round picks. Keller was drafted overslot in the second round of the 2014 draft out of high school. Glasnow was chosen in the fifth round of the fifth round of the 2012 entry draft. Both had the obvious talent to warrant their selections, but the point remains: these were not slam dunk picks.

Both obviously had the talent to warrant selections in the upper-rounds of the draft, but Pirates fans may be learning a hard lesson by watching Glasnow struggle at the major league level while simultaneously watching Keller flourish thus far.

You don’t know.

Until, of course, you do.

We are not there yet with Glasnow. Not even close. But for the Pirates fans who are holding their breath after the lanky second-year hurler’s last start, go ahead and exhale.

There is a backup plan in place with Mitch Keller, and, right now to this least, the back up plan is looking like a pretty good one.

Photo Credit – Flickr Creative Commons

Jason Rollison

Jason Rollison has been analyzing baseball and the Pirates in one way or another for 4+ years. Jason's previous stops include rumbunter.com, Pittsburgh Sporting News, Call To The Pen and several print publications. He also covers the State College Spikes for the Centre County Gazette (State College, PA) When it comes to analyzing baseball, he likes to take a middle-of-the-road approach, with one foot on the analytics side of the fence and the other on the old-school side. Having said that, he is a sucker for pitchf/x. Jason has appeared as a phone-in and in-studio guests in numerous outlets, including Trib Live Radio and 93.7 The Fan (CBS Sports Radio)