This is the one in a series of stories looking at members of the Pittsburgh Pirates 40-man roster:
After struggling in his first few seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Mitch Keller turned in his best season of his major league career and served as a bright spot for the club.
The Pirates originally drafted Keller in the second round of the 2014 MLB draft out of Xavier High School in Iowa.
As Keller worked his way up the Pirates’ minor league system, he was considered to be one of the top prospects for Pittsburgh. Universally, he was considered a Top 100 prospect in the game.
The hype surrounding Keller didn’t immediately translate to big league success. In his first 39 starts from 2019-21, Keller struggled to a 6.02 ERA.
The right-hander wasn’t able to ever quite find his groove on the mound in the big leagues and questions were raised if he would ever live up to his potential.
Fast forward to this past season with the Pirates and Keller showed what made him such a highly-regarded prospect.
Entering the season, it looked like a make-or-break season of sorts for Keller who became arbitration-eligible for the first time of his career this offseason.
Keller led the team with 29 starts and made 31 appearances in total for Pittsburgh. While he went just 5-12 on the year, the 26-year-old posted a respectable 3.91 ERA which was backed up by a slightly better 3.88 FIP.
From his final start in the month of May through the end of the season, Keller was certainly the Pirates best and most consistent starter — especially after the trade of Jose Quintana to the St. Louis Cardinals.
In those final 22 starts, 120.1 innings in total, Keller owned a sparkling 3.22 ERA. The righty picked up 106 strikeouts over that span and did a stellar job of limiting the long ball — only surrendering nine home runs.
A big reason for the turnaround on the mound for Keller last year? The implementation of a new pitch.
For the first time in his career, Keller threw a sinking fastball which was not only effective but helped Keller find his confidence on the mound.
Heading into next season, Keller finds himself in bit of a different situation.
There will be expectations now that Keller will not only replicate the success he had in 2022, but will even take another step forward as the anchor of a relatively young starting rotation.
Keller will find himself atop the Pirates’ rotation and he appears to be in line to be the club’s opening day starter on March 30 in Cincinnati.
Keller is a key figure for the Pirates as they look to improve upon back-to-back 100-loss seasons.
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