Shortly after Class A West Virginia’s walk-off win against Class A Lakewood on Saturday, Mitch Keller got news about his next move. The right-handed pitcher, the Pirates’ No. 5 prospect according to MLB.com, would get a late season call-up to Class A Advanced. On Tuesday, he was later told, he would make his debut for the Marauders.
By Tuesday, he was waiting. Rain, as it often does throughout Florida during the late summer, swept through Manatee County and the southwestern part of the state. Keller checked the radar and wished. If the weather held out, Keller would get to make the toughest start of his young career.
“I was really anxious all day to get this start in,” Keller said. “Looking at the radar, I didn’t really want it to rain. That was a big thing in my mind. I didn’t really want to push it back another day. I wanted to get out there and get going.”
He began by firing strikes over the plate. Three pitches in, he had ripped three strikes past Hammerheads outfielder Jeremias Pineda, finishing the lead-off hitter with a high fastball for his first strikeout in Bradenton. Keller would add six more throughout the course of six innings and finish as a winner in his first game at a new level. Behind Keller, the Marauders blew out Jupiter, 8-1, at McKechnie Field in their penultimate home game of the regular season. Keller finished with seven strikeouts and just one walk in six shutout innings. He scattered five hits, only allowing multiple batters to reach base during the second inning. Across 88 pitches, Keller proved why he’s considered the No. 80 prospect in all of affiliated baseball by MLB.com.
65.9Percentage of strikes Mitch Keller threw in his debut for the Marauders on Tuesday. The 20-year-old pitching prospect threw 88 pitches and 58 strikes.
Mostly Keller leaned on the fastball that has made him one of the top pitching prospects in the sport. He changed levels and notched his first four strikeouts with high heat. His velocity hovered in the mid 90s and topped out at 98 mph. It produced the occasional hard-hit ball, like outfielder John Norwood’s ground-rule double in the first inning or his double to left in the sixth. But each time there was a serious threat, Keller escaped.
In the first inning, he quickly got first baseman Taylor Ard to ground out to third and end the inning after Norwood’s double. In the sixth, Norwood’s double was sandwiched between strikeouts as Keller fanned the side.
“(They were) more advanced hitters obviously, so they were ready to hit the fastball,” Keller said. “I think they knew what I do, so we had to change it up a little bit earlier and I think that worked.”
As the season approaches its end and the Marauders ready for next week’s postseason, roster changes have been both a plague and a bastion for Bradenton. As Keller arrived, fellow pitcher Stephen Tarpley and dynamic outfielder Tito Polo were sent to the New York Yankees as compensation for Pittsburgh’s acquisition of Ivan Nova earlier during the month.
They could be costly losses as the Marauders begin playing for a Florida State League title Tuesday. They could also be outweighed if Keller is able to replicate his performance next week. The 20-year-old’s next turn lines up for Sunday’s regular season finale. If manager Michael Ryan opts to push him back at all, Keller would be in position to start Game 1 of the postseason for his new team.
“It was the same game,” Keller said. “I was a little amped up for it, but other than that it was good.”