There's been plenty of helium around Pirates pitching prospects at various levels this season, and no one's received more praise than Mitch Keller. The 2014 over-slot second-round pick made his full-season debut with the West Virginia Power this year, and promptly earned South Atlantic League Player of the Month honors for April. I spoke with Keller about the jump on Saturday, and he went back out and shoved on Monday, giving him 42 strikeouts to three walks with an 0.79 earned-run average and a 3-1 record on the season. Here's the transcript of our chat, lightly edited for length and clarity.
You're off to a good start; what's improved for you? What's different?
In instructional league last year and through spring training this year I really worked on some mechanical stuff. It helped clean up my delivery so I can throw a lot more strikes and have a lot more power throughout the game. I think that’s really helped.
What's it like for you starting in a full-season league?
It’s a lot different than extended spring training. When spring training ends, you don’t get that extra two months to feel your way out until the season starts. It’s right after it, right away. It’s a lot of fun and it’s exciting to get after it right away in April.
You've had better control this year. How did you go about that?
It’s just a mindset, really. This year I came in with the mindset that I want to be aggressive and attack hitters, and that’s really helped, especially with velocity, keeping that and pounding the zone, not being afraid of contact.
Is that something the Pirates preach, an organizational thing?
Yeah. Be aggressive with the fastball. All of us work off our fastballs, establishing them inside, throwing inside. Our thing is, we own the inner half with our fastballs. That really sets up everything else.
How have your other pitches been coming? How have the curveball and changeup developed?
I was working on (the changeup) in spring training, messing around with grips and throwing it in bullpens before starts. That’s really helped. I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable with it. The curveball’s more mechanical, keeping my front side (closed), a clean delivery. That’s helped with both pitches, being able to control those.
What are your goals for the season?
Basically to stay healthy all year, get a first (full) year and get some good innings in and develop what I’ve been working on, fastballs, and develop a good changeup that I can throw for strikes and use in counts that I like to use it in.
Do you know what to expect for your workload? Is it different being in a starting rotation in April?
I really have no idea. I just go from day to day. Each start, I'm just going out and throwing until they tell me I’m done. I really don’t know what the plan is for that. ... I’ll throw until they tell me to stop.
What's it like being in the Pirates organization, where they bring in a bunch of tall guys that look like you and pitch like you?
It’s really nice to know that I fit what they want. It’s comforting to know that I’m what they’re looking for.