Mitch Keller Isn’t Good, but Training Him is Part of the Plan

Mitch Keller

This is the beginning of a build, the perfect time to be patient with a young pitcher who needs to learn his lessons at this level.

This isn’t some cockeyed optimist stuff, I noted before the season I had far more faith in JT Brubaker than Mitch Keller, this year. Mitch is all about the ceiling, in fact that’s what all prospect rankings are based on, and as my friend Craig often says, the ceiling is great, but he doesn’t trust it as much as the floor.

The Pirates are not in win now mode, and it’s by design. There will come a point when they have to honestly evaluate what they’re trying to teach Mitch Keller with how he’s receiving and applying the instruction. He’s a talented kid, that’s not a guarantee he figures it out, he wouldn’t be the first to fail, but he’s dominated in the minor leagues and surely would again.

You don’t give up on a player like this, and if his lessons result in 20 losses for this baseball team in 2021, so long as he has learned and gotten to a good place by the end of the season it’s a win for the franchise.

Now you hear me say all that about Mitch and probably wonder why I don’t extend the same thing to Will Craig or Cole Tucker. Easy answer, neither of them have ever excelled in the minors. Now, if the Pirates have no first basemen as just occurred, I’m more than happy to give Craig a shot, he’s hit .250 which isn’t great, but in comparison to the rest of the lineup, is clearly not horrible. Cole Tucker is up here now and has only had 2 at bats, now what opportunity he gets, we’ll see, I expect it’s short lived.

Charlie Morton started his career in 2008 in Atlanta, a very talented pitcher with scary stuff who just couldn’t get out of his own way. 2008 ERA 6.15, 2009 ERA in 18 games for Pittsburgh was 4.55, in 2010 he had 17 starts and posted an ERA of 7.57.

A classic head case right? The coaches and Charlie himself talked about how he didn’t trust his stuff, wasn’t controlling his stuff. Didn’t believe in his sinker to the degree he needed to, and no this was not a round peg into a square hole situation, this was a guy who already had the sinker and pitching to contact in his DNA.

Finally, things sunk in and he stayed healthy in 2011. 29 starts, 171 innings and a 3.83 ERA. This earned Charlie an extension with the Pirates.

Four years.

He would struggle again after four more successful campaigns for Pittsburgh and moving on to Philadelphia in 2016, and then resurrected himself for Houston and Tampa.

This is one guy. I’m not trying to tell you this story is exactly what Keller’s path will look like, I’m simply saying, if teams were as quick on the trigger as many of you seem to want the Pirates to be with Keller, good luck ever cultivating a star.

Looking back, I still hear people talk about how Gerrit Cole ‘never gave his all’ here. Or was never ‘as good as he should have been’ here. He was a kid. He pitched here in Pittsburgh for 5 years, posting an ERA over 4.00 one time.

He was a number one overall pick. And he performed like one, he’s still performing like one. He didn’t come to the league looking like Cy Young, and a ton of people want to act like because he wasn’t polished in 2013 when he made his debut he just wasn’t that good.

It’s one thing to embrace a rebuild, not everyone is capable of actually understanding and accepting the process. That’s fine and I totally get it isn’t for everyone. Believing Bob Nutting will pay for players when they need them, hey, that’s another leap of faith that even I can’t get behind, that’s why I focus so much on the build and development, because I have so little faith that Nutting will spend.

I’d like to believe it, but I certainly don’t trust it.

That being the case, you better start accepting that young players typically play like young players. Development doesn’t stop in AAA, and if you want to flush a former MLB top 10 prospect after 25 starts, all I can do is thank the good lord you aren’t a GM.

None of this makes the process easy to watch, but regardless it has to be done. And it will happen again, with pitchers like Quinn Priester, Brennan Malone, Tanaj Thomas, Cody Bolton and any other top tier pitchers you can think of. Some of them will step right in and look like they have it together, JT Brubaker has done that, Wil Crowe has steadily grown, Miguel Yajure has looked fabulous in spots starts, but the journey isn’t easy.

Patience is a virtue, and building like this it’s a prerequisite.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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