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Vukovcan: Too Soon For Pirates To Give Up On Mitch Keller

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In a season full of things that have gone wrong, to put things bluntly, Mitch Keller is the biggest disappointment and failure on the 2021 Pittsburgh Pirates.

After continuing to dominate at every level of the minor leagues, this was supposed to be the year that Keller made the jump and established himself as a major league pitcher.

Unfortunately for Keller and the Pirates, that has not happened and there’s legitimate reasons to wonder if that will ever happen and if he’s just the classic example of a 4A pitcher – someone that excels in the minors but just isn’t good enough to cut it in the major leagues.

The former 2014 2nd round pick and top prospect in the Pirates organization was named the International League Pitcher of the Year in 2019 and was being counted upon to be the next ace of the Pirates starting rotation but that hasn’t come close to happening. Keller has been consistent, but not in a good way.

Career Minor League Numbers: 114 games,  37-23, 3.13 ERA, 567 IP, 605 K’s

Career Major League Numbers: 31 games, 5-16, 6.30 ERA, 131 IP, 141 K’s

2021 Major League Numbers: 15 games, 3-10, 6.86 ERA, 61 IP, 60’s 

To Keller’s credit, he’s been a good teammate and has continued to work on fixing things but has yet to figure things out.

The question now is how much rope does he have left with the Pirates and how much patience will Derek Shelton and Ben Cherington have with him?

Despite not seeing much reason for optimism, I believe it’s way too early for the Pirates to consider cutting ties with the 25-year old right-hander. Although it’s frustrating because you want to see results, the organization must continue to have patience and work with Keller to figure things out.

First of all, it’s not as though Keller himself is keeping the Pirates from becoming a playoff team. The organization and this still young prospect are growing at the same time and are trying to build into something special but aren’t there yet. Secondly, Keller isn’t currently blocking anyone in Triple-A or on the current 26-man roster of a spot. Next year at this time with guys like Roansy Contreras, Miguel Yajure, Cody Bolton, that might change, but the current Pirates starting rotation has no one in it that’s a long-term option.

A few years ago, the organization was in a similar situation with Tyler Glasnow, who’s doing exactly what Keller is doing now and was also being called a 4A pitcher. Neal Huntington decided to give up on Glasnow and included him in one of the worst trades in the history of the organization; we all know how that turned out. Every outing he shows flashes of being a dominant starter and definitely has the stuff to succeed but the issue for him is in the head.

Although it’s frustrating to watch, Cherington and the organization need to keep putting Keller out there every five days and hope the lightbulb turns on and he figures things out. While this isn’t something that can be said forever, 2021 and most of 2022 is too early to give up on Keller.

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