Back in June 2016, the New York Yankees took a flier in the 39th Round when they drafted Wisconsin-Milwaukee right-hander Brian Keller. There aren’t many expectations when a player is taken that low in the draft. However, Keller has been thriving under the radar without much hype.
In the 2018 season with Double-A Trenton, the 24-year-old was 10-9 with a 3.74 ERA over the course of 22 games (21 starts). He struck out 114 batters and walked 37 in 125 innings of work.
Over the course of his three years in the Yankees organization, Keller has an ERA of 3.08. While he may not be on anybody’s top prospect list, he does a good job of producing consistent results.
Let’s take a look at some of the highlights of Keller’s Yankees career up until this point:
Keller began his professional career with the Gulf Coast Yankees West squad out of the bullpen. In the seven games that he appeared in, he did not allow any earned runs, got a save, and struck out 23 batters to only one walk in 20 innings.
His best performance in the GCL occurred on July 18 against the Yankees East squad. Keller went 3.2 innings, gave up only one hit, and struck out six in relief of Gilmael Troya. He would make two more appearances in the GCL before being promoted to Rookie Level Pulaski.
When Keller went to Pulaski, he had an impressive debut in relief against Princeton. On August 6, he gave up one hit, struck out six, and walked two in three innings. While he was at that level, he did get a chance to make two starts. His final start against Burlington on August 28 was dominant as he struck out seven and gave up two hits in 4.1 innings.
After that outing, Keller got to pitch in one game for Short-Season Staten Island. On September 4 against Brooklyn, he threw two no-hit innings, struck out three, and walked one to get the save.
In 2017, Keller began the year with Charleston and had his fair share of struggles in the early stages of the year. After a 3.18 ERA in his first four starts, the right-hander had a rough month of May. Despite throwing a complete game, he went 1-4 with a 5.40 ERA in five starts.
True, Keller had his early struggles, but he showed he was able to bounce back after facing that adversity. He gave up just nine hits in three starts in the month of June (all wins) and he had at least seven strikeouts in all four of this starts that month.
While Keller was only with the Riverdogs for three months, he was one of six pitchers on the staff with 90 or more strikeouts. Those 90 strikeouts and the two complete games he threw allowed him to be promoted to Tampa in July.
Keller ended up making ten starts with Tampa and went 5-3 with a 2.90 ERA and had two more complete games. He gave up three runs or fewer in nine of those outings and went six innings or more in eight of them.
Two noteworthy starts from Keller in 2017 came on July 28 against Palm Beach when he threw a complete game two-hitter (struck out nine) and on August 9 against Clearwater when he gave up one hit and struck out 11 over six innings.
When you look at how Keller fared compared to the rest of the Trenton Thunder rotation, he led the team in innings pitched and strikeouts. However, he also allowed 13 home runs, seven more than he allowed in the prior season.
After a rough start to the season (5.06 ERA in three April starts), Keller bounced back in May as he went 3-2 with a 2.48 ERA in six games (five starts). One of his best starts during that month was on May 18 against Bowie when he allowed only one hit over eight scoreless innings while striking out four and walking two.
In addition to June, Keller had a strong July as he was 2-2 with a 2.43 ERA and had 32 strikeouts in five starts. Those good results carried over into the second half of the year as he went 4-3 with a 3.02 ERA in the final nine starts of the year.
When you look at Keller’s pitch arsenal, he has a fastball that goes up into the mid-90s in velocity to go with a curveball, changeup, and slider. Last year, I had the chance to talk to Keller about his approach on the mound and he talked about attacking hitters:
“I would say I am going to come at you with four different pitches… You never know what you are going to get. It will change batter-to-batter, inning-to-inning, game-to-game of what my plan is and how I am going to attack hitters.”
With that unpredictability, that could fare well for Keller going forward as he is not going to put up high strikeout totals on a nightly basis. According to FanGraphs, opposing hitters hit flyballs against him 42.6 percent of the time, which is a big increase from his time with Advanced-A Tampa (29.9 percent).
As Keller heads into 2019, he is definitely a candidate to make the rotation at Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre. If he is not there to start the year, he should be up there early enough in the year.
If he can get that flyball percentage down, he is a pitcher that is going to put up consistent results and that is all the Yankees can ask for from a pitcher at the upper levels of the organization.