I love baseball. Every part of it. I appreciate the game going on at any given time but much of what makes baseball the deepest sport in the country. Everything affects the timeline, player development, drafts, trades, injuries, management changes, and even assumptions can change where your franchise is in the projected progression.
Mitch Keller is one of those players who has an unhealthy amount of expectation and importance placed on his shoulders and his success or even stunted growth could create a delay that stops everything from lining up properly.
You can call it wishful thinking, most best-case scenario situations are, but let’s draw up what the hope was for Mitch moving forward. 2019 was a proving ground for Keller, and he didn’t prove much more than the fact he wouldn’t fall to pieces if he struggled. He put together a 1 and 5 record with a 7.13 ERA in 11 games. In 48 innings pitched he gave up 72 hits, walked 16 and allowed 6 bombs. He also did this in late September against the Mariners.
He showed steady improvement over those 11 games and struck out 65 in the process. This is less about what I think Mitch will become, and a whole lot more what his success or failure does to the timeline the club is working with for the rotation.
Projections are insane for a player like this, for one thing they’re based on a set of stats you’d never allow to progress. Let’s say 2020 started as normal, if the Pirates get to June or early July and Mitch is still putting up numbers that look like that, chances are he is sent back down, talent or no, to work on his craft. If he shows improvement, in other words, puts together a decent rookie campaign they probably let him fight through it, in the hopes it makes him more polished and ready to contribute in 2021 as a counted-on commodity.
Of course, we can’t go forward with the what if scenario of 2020 being normal. This is where reality starts to creep back in, the season will be short if it happens at all (I do believe some facsimile of a season will happen) and the preparation will at the very least be weird. The obstacles in his way for normal progression are stacked, but he will still be expected to take a step forward.
That’s the difference between need and want. Of course, everyone wants Mitch to become an anchor in the rotation, but the Pirates NEED him to reach his potential. He has something else in his favor, the Pirates recent mistake of giving up on Tyler Glasnow. The Bucs will hopefully have learned a bit of a lesson watching one of their top pitching prospects struggle to get his footing only to see him blossom for another squad.
We’ve written since last season that 2020 was not going to be a banner year for the Pirates, but that doesn’t make it unimportant. Every season is another year of progression, and the hope was that Mitch would show some, because heading into 2021 those wants and wishes will start to turn into need.
Jameson Taillon should be back, Chad Kuhl will have also completely rehabbed and should contribute. Keller fits right in here if everything goes right along with Joe Musgrove and I’ll not even play the game of who the fifth is. Point is, if the Pirates truly believe they are in a position to take what they have now and build on it to create a competitor, as Ben Cherrington has repeatedly told us, it can’t and won’t happen without Mitch Keller being a big part of it. His top end talent is higher than any one other pitcher in the system not named Quinn or Tanaj, and better still, he’s already here. There is no telling what a season like this will do to his progression, maybe we’ll see a longer period of hitters struggling to catch up to pitching. Maybe the Pitchers won’t get stretched out correctly and their will be more injuries or less innings. No matter how it plays out, Mitch Keller progressing has to happen, or Mr. Cherrington’s dream of building on this, is out the window.