After all, the 6-foot-3 Wisconsin-Milwaukee product was drafted in the 39th round (out of 40) in 2016. But that didn’t matter this spring.
Added to the list of pitchers in big league camp shortly after it opened, Keller impressed the big league staff on Feb. 26 when he faced the Phillies and threw two scoreless innings, allowing a hit and striking out two.
In an age where velocity is king, Keller doesn’t push the radar guns toward triple digits. He gets outs with a fastball that sits 93 mph while mixing in a curveball, slider and above-average changeup.
“Because of his other pitches, his fastball plays up,’’ said Tommy Phelps, the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre pitching coach who never saw Keller throw until this spring. “Hitters don’t have comfortable at-bats off him.’’
If not for area scout Steve Lemke’s recommendation, Keller might have gone undrafted after four years of college.
“He came to us and said we should draft (Keller), and (amateur scouting analyst Scott) Benecke said the same thing, that we should grab him,’’ scouting director Damon Oppenheimer said. “He made a big jump (in velocity) after he was drafted.’’
Last summer, Keller made a move upward on July 28 when he was promoted from low Class A Charleston to high Class A Tampa. In 24 combined starts, he recorded a 3.13 ERA, allowing 136 hits in 144 innings while striking out 157 and walking 28.
“In time,’’ general manager Brian Cashman said when asked if Heller had a chance to pitch in the big leagues.
>> Third baseman Miguel Andujar popped four home runs and hit .267 in 15 spring games to win the organization’s James P. Dawson Award as the best rookie in big league camp. The Yankees’ acquisition of Brandon Drury from the Diamondbacks in February relegated Andujar to Triple-A on Opening Day.
>> After designating outfielder Jake Cave for assignment, the Yankees traded him to the Twins for 19-year-old Dominican righthander Luis Gil, who spent all of 2016 on the disabled list and pitched in the Dominican Summer League last year.