PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates spent the long weekend reshaping their roster, trading a pair of cornerstone players for a haul of young talent. But the Bucs' next young ace may have been in their system all along.MLB Pipeline on Tuesday released its list of baseball's top 10 right-handed pitching prospects,
PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates spent the long weekend reshaping their roster, trading a pair of cornerstone players for a haul of young talent. But the Bucs' next young ace may have been in their system all along.
MLB Pipeline on Tuesday released its list of baseball's top 10 right-handed pitching prospects, and Mitch Keller was right in the middle of the pack at No. 6. The 21-year-old is Pittsburgh's second-ranked prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, currently behind only outfielder Austin Meadows.
:: Top 10 Prospects by Position ::
Keller is in good company on MLB Pipeline's list. Angels dual threat Shohei Ohtani, MLB Pipeline's top overall prospect, also leads this group. He is followed by Houston's Forrest Whitley, White Sox flame-thrower Michael Kopech, Tampa Bay's Brent Honeywell and the Dodgers' Walker Buehler. Following Keller are two future division rivals: the Cardinals' Alex Reyes (No. 7) and the Reds' Hunter Greene (No. 8).
Keller, a second-round Draft pick in 2014, continued his ascent through the Pirates' Minor League system last year by posting an 8-5 record and a 3.03 ERA between Class A Advanced Bradenton and Double-A Altoona, with a brief stop in Class A West Virginia for a pair of rehab starts. He struck out 116 batters in as many innings, walked 32, allowed only seven home runs and posted a 1.00 WHIP.
Keller's season ended with a strong performance in the prospect-loaded Arizona Fall League. In six starts, he went 4-0 with a 1.52 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP in 23 2/3 innings.
"It's been really positive from all aspects," Keller said during his Fall League stint. "Just meeting new guys and learning how to pitch, and pitching against all these really good guys on the other end makes you have to put everything together to be successful. I think that will help me later on in the Minors, and hopefully one day in the big leagues."
The only thing that slowed down Keller last year was a back strain, which cost him a month from mid-May to mid-June. He finished strong with a late-season promotion to Double-A Altoona, however, and helped the Curve win the Eastern League championship.
"The stuff is there. The strikes are there. The quality of the pitches is there," Bucs director of Minor League operations Larry Broadway said near the end of the Minor League season. "Got to keep him on the field and continue to refine his approach and the quality of the strikes, the quality of the command."
Keller should begin next season back in Double-A, with a midseason callup to Triple-A seemingly within reach. That would put him on track for either a late 2018 or, more likely, early to mid-2019 debut in Pittsburgh. At that point, Keller could join a mostly homegrown starting staff that will also include Jameson Taillon atop the rotation.
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.