Mitch Keller Continues To Thrive At Double-A

Best Player: OF Jordan Luplow

Luplow, the 2014 third-rounder out of Fresno State, wasn’t invited to big league camp in February, and he wasn’t considered a top prospect even at midseason. However, he ripped through Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis by batting .302/.381/.527 with 23 home runs, which earned him multiple callups to Pittsburgh to serve as outfield depth.

Luplow’s 23 homers topped all Pirates minor leaguers and surpassed his combined total of 22 in his previous two seasons. Though top prospect Austin Meadows still is the Pirates’ long-term answer, Luplow assured that he will be part of the discussion.

“He just really had one of those years where he put it all together,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “We liked him out of the draft. We liked him in a slow, steady progression (through the minors), but he really put things together from an approach standpoint, a mentality standpoint and a pitch-to-pitch focus standpoint.”

Best Pitcher: RHP Mitch Keller

The Pirates’ top pitching prospect lost time due to injury, but he still excelled at high Class A Bradenton, going 6-3, 3.14 with 64 strikeouts in 77.1 innings. Keller continued to dominate after a promotion to Double-A Altoona, where he recorded a 3.12 ERA and struck out 45 batters and walked just 11 in 34.2 innings.

With a mid-90s fastball and an excellent 11-t0-5 curve, Keller shot to No. 15 on the Midseason Top 100 Prospects ranking.

“The fastball and breaking ball are really good,” Huntington said. “And he has a changeup that continues to improve. His ability to develop a changeup is really the focus at this point, because it would give him a nice contrast to the power of his fastball.”

Keep An Eye On: LHP Taylor Hearn

Hearn missed most of the second half with an oblique injury, but the 6-foot-5 lefthander acquired last season in the Mark Melancon trade with Felipe Rivero continues to show overpowering stuff. His fastball hits the high 90s, he has a strong changeup and improving slider to go with it.

Hearn mowed down 109 batters in 89.1 innings this season, with almost all of his work coming with Bradenton. Control issues may force him to the bullpen eventually, but he has a high ceiling in that role.

“You always want to start your best arms if they have starter traits,” Huntingon said. “He has the fastball and the changeup, which is a great foundation for a starter. The development of a breaking ball would be a nice third weapon.”

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