Keller threw six shutout innings in his season debut for Double-A Altoona on Sunday. He struck out eight batters while allowing two hits and two walks.
The 22-year-old righty threw 49 of 77 pitches for strikes, mixing in plenty of changeups against a lineup stacked with left-handed batters. Keller is expected to spend the bulk of 2018 in Altoona, with a potential mid-season promotion to Triple-A. There's a chance he could join the Pirates as a September call-up, but it's doubtful the organization promotes him to the majors any sooner.
Keller made his Grapefruit League debut Sunday, throwing two scoreless innings against Boston. He allowed two hits and no walks while striking out three batters, DK Pittsburgh Sports reports.
"There was nothing to be disappointed about today," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Efficient, crisp, downhill angle to the fastball with firm velocity." The righty now features an improving changeup to go along with his fastball and curve. "It's huge," Keller said. "Having that third pitch to keep in the back of hitter's minds is huge. It's been a big progression for me, and it's coming along nicely." Keller will start the 2018 campaign with Double-A Altoona, and while he's got an outside shot of making his major-league debut in September, the Pirates typically promote their prospects more slowly than do other organizations.
Keller allowed two runs in 7.1 innings Thursday, leading the Altoona Curve to a three-game sweep in the Eastern League championship round.
He gave up only four hits, walking one while striking out eight batters. The 21-year-old also recorded a swinging strikeout with a 96-mph fastball on his 90th pitch, stranding two runners to end the seventh inning. Keller made just six regular-season starts at Double-A in 2017. As a result, it wouldn't be surprising to see begin next year with Altoona. Unless a slew of injuries strike the major-league club, it's unlikely Keller debuts before September 2018. He remains Pittsburgh's brightest pitching prospect.
Keller pitched nine shutout innings against Bowie in the first round of the Eastern League playoffs Thursday. He gave up just one hit and two walks, striking out four.
The 21-year-old compiled a 3.03 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 116:32 K:BB in 116 regular-season innings split between three levels in 2017. With a fastball that sits in the mid 90s and a 3.85 K/BB rate for his career, Keller continues to exhibit promise. He figures to start the 2018 campaign in Double-A with a chance to advance mid-season.
Keller was recently promoted to Double-A Altoona and will debut with his new team Sunday, Mike Rosenbaum of MLB.com reports.
Keller earned the move up the organizational ladder by delivering a 2.99 ERA and 0.98 WHIP on the season for High-A Bradenton, and really turned it on in his last three starts, going 2-0 with a 1.42 ERA and 14:2 K:BB. As the top pitching prospect in the Pirates organization, he'll be a name worth keeping an eye on for a potential move to the big club at some point in 2018.
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