Pirates prospect Mitch Keller working on new pitch as he awaits call-up
Neal Huntington is reluctant to use the word “inevitable” when assessing the possibility of top prospect Mitch Keller making his major-league debut this season.
But the Pittsburgh Pirates general manager certainly gave the impression Sunday that Keller could help bolster the starting rotation at some point soon.
“Inevitable is a strong word for it,” Huntington said, “but our hope is he’ll be ready to come up and help us win games, sure,” he said.
That time isn’t now, however, even with Chris Archer (thumb) and Jameson Taillon (elbow) on the injured list, taking away 40 percent of the rotation for the foreseeable future. Steven Brault and Nick Kingham, who lost a spring-training competition with Jordan Lyles for the fifth spot in the rotation, will start Tuesday and Wednesday against the Texas Rangers.
“We’re going to have to go with Brault and Kingham, and we’ll get Chris Archer back as soon as his body allows him to come back,” Huntington said.
The reluctance to immediately call on Keller is based on him adding another pitch — a slider/cutter — to his arsenal. The Pirates want him to get comfortable using it in Triple-A Indianapolis before he tests it against major league bats.
“He’s gaining some confidence in it and some willingness to use it in key situations,” Huntington said.
The Pirates also want to see Keller make more than his current total of 16 Triple-A starts.
“With (Bryan) Reynolds and (Cole) Tucker up here, we’re out of comfort zone enough with guys without a ton of Triple-A experience. The addition of a slider is going to cause us to be a bit more patient, to let him lock this in and utilize it as a weapon.
“It would be like bringing a hitter up when he’s in the middle of a mechanical change.”
In his past 17 innings, Keller (3-0, 3.48 ERA for the season) has struck out 24, with only four walks.
“Keller is making great strides. His last two starts are really reasons for us to continue to be optimistic about Mitch,” Huntington said.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .