If I told you there was a prospect in the current system drafted in the 39th round that has a chance to be an impact major leaguer, would you believe me? You’d have every reason to be skeptical. The odds that any 39th round pick will even make it to the majors, let alone become an impact player, are slim to none.
Brian Keller could be one of the rare players to break that mold. The Yankees took Keller in the second to last round in the draft in 2016. Baseball America described him as durable, but “nothing flashy.” Scouting director Damon Oppenheimer would later say that even then they had no idea what they had. It was only after he showed up to camp that the Yankees realized they had unsurfaced a diamond in the rough.
Throws: Right handed
Draft: 39th round
Prior to being drafted, Keller had a solid senior year at the University of Wisconsin. He threw 107.2 innings, hada 3.1 ERA and an 8.64 K/9 with a 1.68 BB/9. After being drafted, he shined and threw a total of 41 innings with a 0.88 ERA, while striking out 51 and walking just seven between the rookie leagues and Staten Island. That definitely opened some eyes. After finally getting a full off-season to rest, he came out of the gate a bit rusty. Since the slow start, he has recently broken out like the Shawshank Redemption.
On the season he has a 3.52 ERA and an 83:14 K:BB ratio. Those numbers are impressive, but what he has done in his last four starts is a big deal. Over his last 24 innings, he has let up just four runs (1.5 ERA) while striking out 30 and walking 6. In short, he has been a monster. If this continues he will soon be promoted to Tampa.
The scouting report:
Keller’s scouting report will not jump out at you, but keep in mind two things. Firstly, the Yankees got him in the 39th round. Secondly, he is a big kid who still has some projection left in his frame and will probably gain a few ticks on his fastball with time.
As of the beginning of the season, Keller’s fastball sat in the 90-93 range. That’s not what makes him so effective though. He excels most with his three high quality secondary pitches; the curve, slider, and change. Moreover, he locates all of his pitches with the best of them. This combination of skills has allowed him to have a ton of success in his limited career so far.
As far as projection goes, he is limited by his age but has room to add velocity based on his size. The Yankees feel that once they get him on their throwing program and make a couple of changes he will add a couple of ticks on the fastball. If he is able to do that, all bets are off. As of right now he projects as a 5th starter with his stuff. If he adds some velocity he would bring his ceiling up to a middle of the rotation starter with the floor of a middle reliever. To get a guy like that in the 39th round is a tremendous find.
He is a very polished pitcher. Even if he doesn’t add any velocity, he is actually pretty close to major league ready now. He should move rapidly through the system. I wouldn’t be surprised if he is in Triple-A by the end of next season. He could reach the majors as soon as 2019, but 2020 would probably be a more realistic projection.