I met Brad Keller when I was pitching in the Royals organization. He was the new face that everybody was talking during the first few weeks of spring training 2018. He’s a large guy, can drive a golf ball a mile, and seems like a genuinely good person. Here’s my take on him as a pitcher.
The Rule 5 draft is one of the most fascinating storylines to follow each season. It is a chance, in the most unadulterated sense, for one organization to dominate another in a lopsided transaction. Of course, the idea at the heart of the Rule 5 is to reward players talented enough to play in the major leagues who may not have a clear path to the bigs in their own organization — but this is a fun little side effect. After one team deems a player not valuable enough to protect from the Rule 5 draft, other scouting departments have the chance to evaluate whether this player could be of service to their major league team now and in the future. Most times, the player is returned to the original team and not much of note occurs. However, every so often, something remarkable happens, and an under-appreciated player gets his opportunity and makes the most of it. That is the case with the Royals and Brad Keller, their de facto ace.
Taken with the fifth pick in the 2017 Rule 5 draft, Keller was a revelation last year, giving the Royals a reason to smile while they trudged through a 104-loss season. Keller made 20 starts for the Royals in 2018 after earning a spot in the rotation following a solid stint in the bullpen. He worked 140.1 innings to the tune of a 3.08 ERA and 2.6 wins above replacement. Not bad for someone who hadn’t pitched above Double-A prior to making his major league debut.
It looked like Keller had all the makings of a quality major league starter after being raved about by the Royals for his work effort and competitiveness. Here’s what Royals backstop Martin Maldonado had to say to the Kansas City Star about the 2019 Opening Day starter: “He’s a guy that goes out there and competes. Every pitch that he throws is with meaning. He’s got that mentality of go get ‘em. That’s a guy you can see in his face when he’s about to throw a pitch that he’s locked in to execute a pitch.”
If that’s the case, then where’s the disconnect? Why hasn’t Keller been able to replicate his success from 2018 so far this season? Is he actually a quality No. 2 or No. 3 starter, or is he destined for the back end of the rotation or a spot in the bullpen? Let’s dive a little deeper into Keller’s numbers to see if we can find out what’s different this year. Read the rest of this entry »