PITTSBURGH -- Mitch Keller will report to big league Spring Training for the first time next month. The Pirates put their top prospect on the 40-man roster this winter, and the right-hander will start the season with Triple-A Indianapolis. He'll be one call away from Pittsburgh.Keller's plan this spring is
PITTSBURGH -- Mitch Keller will report to big league Spring Training for the first time next month. The Pirates put their top prospect on the 40-man roster this winter, and the right-hander will start the season with Triple-A Indianapolis. He'll be one call away from Pittsburgh.
Keller's plan this spring is to forget about all of that. He learned the value of that approach last season, when he uncharacteristically struggled following a promotion to Triple-A.
"You definitely try harder because you want to be there so badly," Keller told MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo at the Rookie Career Development Program in Miami. "You just try not to do that, but it definitely creeps into everyone's mind that you are one phone call away. If you make things happen, then you can force their hand. You've just got to try not to do that and just worry about yourself."
Keller, 22, allowed 13 runs on 16 hits over 8 2/3 innings in his first two Triple-A starts last year. He struck out 13 hitters in those outings, but it was still a surprising stumble for MLB Pipeline's No. 16 overall prospect. Keller said his command was the issue. He was leaving pitches over the middle of the plate, and the International League's more experienced hitters took advantage of his mistakes.
Keller then got to break from his routine, step away from the grind of the Minor League season and start the All-Star Futures Game for the U.S. team. He struck out the first batter he faced, touched 99.5 mph on the radar gun and pitched a perfect first inning at Nationals Park.
Keller returned to Triple-A and posted a 3.09 ERA with a strikeout per inning and a .668 opponents' OPS over his final eight starts. Coincidence? He doesn't believe so.
"I think I was trying to please people and not do what I'd been doing my whole career," Keller said. "Just getting to that Futures Game and letting it rip again, I got back into Triple-A and it was good from there."
Keller spent this week alongside a number of rising stars at the RCDP. The event is designed by MLB and the MLB Players Association to help young players learn about financial planning, dealing with the media, inclusion and more. The Pirates sent Keller, infielder Kevin Kramer, reliever Nick Burdi and super-utility man Pablo Reyes.
Kramer, Burdi and Reyes made their big league debuts last September. Keller could join them this summer. Until that day comes, he'll remember what he learned last year.
"Those failures that I had at the beginning are really going to help me, because I know what not to do now and how to handle that when it does come, maybe get out of that rut sooner than three or four games," Keller said. "That's just going to help me through Spring Training and into the season."
The Pirates on Thursday wrapped up their four-day minicamp at the Pirate City training complex in Bradenton, Fla. A handful of big leaguers attended this year's voluntary workouts along with a number of top prospects who will be in big league camp this spring.
Right-handers Chris Archer and Joe Musgrove, both returning from offseason surgery, stopped by the pre-Spring Training camp. So did rehabbing right fielder Gregory Polanco, who hit off a tee for the first time since September shoulder surgery. Reliever Richard Rodriguez, lefty Steven Brault and shortstop Kevin Newman were among the other big leaguers in attendance.
Infield prospects Ke'Bryan Hayes and Will Craig, who will report to big league camp for the first time, joined shortstop Cole Tucker and other prospects to work with manager Clint Hurdle and the Major League coaching staff.
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and read his blog.