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.
This past season, Keller was one of the best strikeout pitchers in the Yankees farm system. With both Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa, the 23-year-old went 11-8 with a 3.13 ERA in 24 starts and had 157 strikeouts. Due to that success, he was named Pinstriped Prospects Pitcher of the Year.
Last month, I had the chance to talk to Keller about his success. During that interview, I asked about how he would describe his pitch arsenal and how he goes about attacking hitters:
“I would say I am going to come at you with four different pitches: fastball, curveball, changeup, and a slider. 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.”
You won’t find Keller on many Top 30 Yankees prospects lists, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have the talent to advance up a system that is deep in pitching. Let’s take a look back at how Keller has done in his two years with the Yankees organization
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.
This past season, 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.
Keller is a four-pitch pitcher, currently sporting a low-90s fastball, a curveball, changeup, and a slider. His stuff isn’t flashy but it is effective and he has shown the ability to locate his pitches well and get outs.
Here is what our friends at 2080 Baseball had to say about him:
“The right-hander threw his first career complete game shutout on Friday, holding the High A Palm Beach Cardinals to just two hits and one walk in Tampa’s 1-0 win. Keller has pitched three other complete games this season, but each of those were only six innings long because of the games were part of minor league seven-inning double-header games. Keller, drafted out of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the 39th round last June, features a fastball that flirts with the middle 90s for now, along with above-average command. Despite being taken so late in the draft, Keller has advanced through the Yankees system quickly. Last season, he climbed his way through three rungs, pitching successfully at the Gulf Coast League, New York-Penn League, and the Appalachian League, boasting a 0.88 ERA in 41 total innings. Keller has continued his ascension in 2017 with his recent promotion from Class A Charleston to High A Tampa.”
It remains to be seen as to where Keller will start the 2018 campaign. If he does end up remaining with Tampa, he could only be a few starts from going up to Double-A Trenton. However, with the Yankees pitching depth in the minors, that promotion won’t come easy.
With all that being said, Keller showed consistency at two levels in his first full season with the organization. With the way he finished the 2017 season, he will be one of those Yankees pitchers to keep an eye on once 2018 begins.