The Yankees farm system is stacked with pitching prospects like Justus Sheffield, Chance Adams, Dillon Tate, and Jonathan Loaisiga. With those guys throwing gas and thriving in the upper minors (and Loaisiga the other night with the major-league club), it’s easy to not think about what Brian Keller, someone who you probably won’t see on prospect lists, is doing in the farm system.
The 23-year-old right-hander barely had his moment in the 2016 amateur draft, getting selected by the Yankees with the team’s 39th round pick out of the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. Under the radar, since he was young, Keller has been exceeding expectations.
At first, Keller didn’t think that he’d get the pleasure of hearing his name announced during the 2016 amateur draft, but if he did he’d make the most out the opportunity.
“I wasn’t showing high-velocity numbers or complete dominance, and especially being at a mid-major school, I never expected to be drafted at all,” Keller said. “However, I was trying my hardest just to sneak my way into the draft, and all I really wanted was an opportunity.
“I got that, and I’m just trying to make the most of it.”
Keller pitched in three levels after getting drafted in 2016 in the Yankees organization. In 41 innings mostly out of the bullpen, he compiled a 1.54 ERA, while striking out 51 batters and walking just seven batters. He moved up to Low-A Charleston and eventually High-A Tampa in 2017 and was phenomenal in 24 starts, compiling an 11-8 record and a 3.44 ERA in 144 innings pitched, along with a 157/28 K/BB ratio.
His 157 strikeouts in 2017 led the farm system.
Those numbers got him a promotion to Double-A Trenton… and a trip to big league camp this spring.
He got to pitch in two games this spring for the Yankees, including one outing where he threw two scoreless frames, as he struck out two batters and allowed just one hit. Even though his overall numbers during the spring weren’t spectacular, as he struggled in his other big league spring outing, it was all about the experience for Keller.
“It was a great experience for me and a lot of fun competing against those guys and being around those major leaguers, especially the Yankees guys — so many quality players,” he said. “It was great learning from them and competing with them.”
Before going on the disabled list with a blister issue, he posted a 5-4 record and a 3.24 ERA in 58 1/3 innings pitched across 10 appearances (nine starts), along with a 46/16 K/BB ratio.
“There’s definitely been improvement from the beginning,” Keller said about his season to this point. “I’ve just been trying to get better every time out.”
Over his first four starts with Double-A Trenton, Keller got off to a rough start, allowing 12 earned runs over 20 innings, good for a 5.40 ERA, along with a 14/9 K/BB ratio. Opposing batters had a slash line of .316/.394/.392 (.786 OPS) against him.
It was apparent to Keller that he had to make an adjustment, as opposing teams in the Eastern League weren’t the same as the opposing teams in the Florida State League.
“The hitters are more advanced, and there’s more of an approach at the plate from most guys,” Keller added. “It’s pretty critical to not waste pitches, and you can’t miss as often.”
Over his last six starts for Trenton, he’s been exceptionally better, only allowing nine earned runs over 38 1/3 innings, good for a 2.11 ERA, along with a 32/7 K/BB ratio. He’d limited hitters to a .178/.221/.296 (.517 OPS) slash line against him.
He has found his feel for Double-A.
Pitchers who throw hard in the lower minor leagues tend to have lots of success in those levels because hitters are still trying to catch up to their fastballs, so they don’t really have to have solid secondary pitches. However, as you rise throughout the minors, you have to have better secondary pitchers, or you won’t be able to get outs.
Luckily for Keller, he’s never thrown hard, as he sits at 91-93 mph, so he’s had to rely on his secondary stuff from the beginning.
“That’s how I was growing up in high school and college,” he mentioned. “I didn’t have as much velocity as other guys had, but that forced me to learn how to actually pitch and use off-speed pitches to my advantage.
“That was a big advantage for me growing up.”
For the rest of the season, Keller simply wants to improve every time he goes out to the mound to pitch.
“My goal is to try to get a little better each time out,” Keller said. “I’ve done a good job of that. I had a rough April, but then I locked it in and was a little more consistent. I just want to keep that going… trying to be as consistent as possible.”
“The end goal is to get guys out, get deep into games and to win some ball games.”
Chance Adams trying to find groove in Triple-A
The 2018 season has been filled with many ups and downs, more so downs, for New York Yankees No. 5 prospect Chance Adams at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. The results certainly weren’t what he wanted entering his start Friday night on the road against Indianapolis, the Triple-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
In 10 starts for the Railriders this season, the 23-year-old righty posted a 5.93 ERA over 44 innings pitched, along with a 44/22 strikeout-to-walk ratio and eight home runs allowed. Though his 10.0 K/9 is his highest mark since when he made the leap to High-A Tampa in the middle of 2016, his 4.5 BB/9 and 1.6 HR/9 are his worst of his four-year minor league career.
At Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s media day, Adams revealed to media members that he had pitched with a bone spur in his right elbow late in the 2017 season, causing him to undergo surgery to remove it in the offseason.
That explained why his numbers later in the year (3.83 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 40 innings in August) weren’t as absurd as what they were in the four months prior. However, he did finish with a 2.45 ERA in 150 1/3 innings between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
The arm strength wasn’t really there, and it was noticeable, when he was in major-league camp, as he had a 11.57 ERA, along with allowing nine hits (two home runs) and registering a meager 1/3 strikeout-to-walk ratio, in 4 2/3 innings pitched in spring training.
Adams feels healthy now as we start off the month of June, but he did mention the other day to that he’s not completely back to how he felt before the injury, but that his arm strength is back.
“It took a little bit,” Adams told Locked On Yankees. “I can’t give you an exact time period, but it’s still coming back. I’m still not throwing as hard as I have.
“It’s all coming.”
Adams has shown signs of breaking out of his funk at times this year, as he’s had three starts, coming into Friday, where he had gone at least five innings for the Railriders and allowed two runs or less, striking out at least six batters in two of those three starts. For him, it’s all about slowing down the game and replicating what he does in-between starts in the games.
“I just have to find my rhythm,” he said. “I’m fine out there, but I just seem a little out of sync. I just have to keep working in my bullpens and when I go out there I just have to match it up and be the same out there, while not trying to do too much.”
On Friday in Indianapolis, Adams looked to have found that rhythm against the Indians’ lineup. In 5 2/3 innings pitched, he allowed no runs on just four hits, while striking out seven batters and, for the first time all season, not walking a single batter.
— YES Network (@YESNetwork) June 2, 2018
This was huge for Adams, who worked his way though that start with 93 pitches (67 percent of them were strikes), after not even getting out of the first inning in his last start on May 27. He only got two outs and allowed three runs on just one hit, while walking three batters and hitting another.
Adams believes that as soon as he finds that groove and repeats it like he did Friday night, he’ll be back to his old, dominating self.
“Goal is to have quality starts, going 5-6 innings, to limit runs and have a lot of strikeouts.”
Mocked On Yankees – MLB Draft
The 2018 draft is now only two weeks away, which means it is time for all the mock drafts. Without being a prospect expert, it’s difficult to evaluate what they all mean, but it is good to know what the talk is out there and what direction the Yankees may be looking in the lead-up to June 4.
Mock drafts are also very different from player rankings, which many of the same writers who do mocks put out separately. Player rankings serve as an evaluation of how good a given player is or could be, whereas these mock drafts are an attempt to predict the draft based on rumors and connections between teams and certain players, which is especially tricky in baseball compared to the NBA or NFL drafts.
The best overall player may not be drafted first overall for myriad reasons including organizational depth and signability.
So, with all that being said, let us take a journey into the mock drafts to see if there is a consensus among the experts about the Yankees selection at pick #23.
MLB.com’s Jim Callis has the Yankees drafting Brice Turang, a shortstop out of Santiago High School in Corona, Calif. Turang was projected as the No. 1 pick in MLB.com’s initial mock draft immediately following the 2017 draft but is having a hard time living up to the standard he set in 2017 when he struck out one time in 101 at-bats.
There are questions about his size, at 6’1’’ and 165 pounds and whether he would project for power but he has a fantastic eye, good speed and is a solid defender. The Yankees have a couple of good middle infielders by the name of Gleyber Torres and Didi Gregorius, but even if Turang has to switch positions, his athleticism should make it work.
Turang is also committed to LSU, so if he falls too far in the first round, he may consider opting for college instead.
Fangraphs.com’s Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel recently released their Mock Draft v2.0 and have the Yankees selecting Xavier Edwards, a middle infielder out of North Broward Prep High School in Florida. Edwards has 80-grade speed, according to FanGraphs and is a switch hitter. He is more contact oriented with his approach and not really a home run threat.
He also grades as an average to above average fielder at either middle infield position. He is another smaller player, at 5’10’’ and 155 pounds. He looks to be more of a top of the lineup, on-base, table-setting hitter with solid defense. He is committed to Vanderbilt but is ranked outside of the top 30 in many player rankings, so if the Yankees pounce, there is a possibility he could forego college.
Sporting News’ mock draft predicts the Yankees will select Mike Vasil, a righthanded pitcher from Boston College High School. Vasil is 6’4’’ and has a fastball that ranges from 92-95 mph. The question marks surround his secondary pitches, his curveball and changeup and how they will develop. He currently lacks control and command but MLB.com believes Vasil will get there.
Currently, he is committed to Virginia and was injured in April when he walked off the mound holding his elbow. The Boston Globe reported that there was no ligament damage or tear in his elbow and that the injury was “muscle fatigue and tightness” and that he would sit out two to three weeks as a precaution.
Keith Law had him ranked as a top ten prospect before the injury, so if he falls to the Yankees this might be a steal.
Speaking of Keith Law, he released his mock draft 2.0 (paywall) for ESPN. Law hears that the Yankees are strongly connected to Jordyn Adams, an outfielder from Green Hope High School in Cary, N.C. The question is whether Adams will sign and pass up the opportunity to play college football for UNC, where his dad is on the coaching staff.
According to MLB.com, Adams’ big tool is his speed and he could potentially be an elite defender in center field if he dedicated his full attention to baseball. He currently does not have much of an offensive track record, so this would be a long-term project if he chooses baseball, as Law believes his tools are ahead of his actual skills.
Baseball America (paywall) gives two options to work with the first being the Yankees selecting prep first basemen Triston Casas, out of American Heritage High School in Plantation, Fla. Casas is a big high schooler, at 6’4’’ and 238 pounds. He does not run very well but he has some of the best power in the draft according to multiple evaluators.
He has one of the more advanced approaches of the power hitters in the draft. He is currently committed to University of Miami. This would be somewhat of an interesting, if not puzzling pick, as many teams tend to shy away from first basemen in the first round. The second option is Anthony Seigler, who is a prep catcher from Cartersville, Ga. He is a switch hitting, switch pitching player who projects better as a catcher according to scouts.
He has an above average arm with a quick transfer and is viewed as the best all around catcher in the draft, with a decent bat too boot. MLB.com even believes he is athletic enough to play second base, if need be. He’s committed to the University of Florida.
There seems to be a theme here, which is a focus on prep players, even if there is no consensus on a specific player. Every player connected to the Yankees is a high schooler, it seems. Another theme is that all the position prospects are up the middle players with impressive speed and less power, with the exception of Casas.
The Yankees have been using Brett Gardner at the top of the lineup, but he has shown signs of decline and would be unlikely to be around once a high school draftee makes it to the majors. None of these players would be an immediate fix to the top of the lineup issues but even if they are a few years away, the heart of the lineup with Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sanchez should still be intact and in need of table setters. Vasil is interesting given how highly regarded he is, but the elbow injury is still scary.
Tightness is not the worst possible outcome but if not handled correctly, it could lead to problems going forward. We still have some more time for these rumors and rumblings to play out and as soon as the new mock drafts come out, the picture may become clearer.
Promoted Whitlock speaks for himself with plenty of strikeouts
Now that we have a solid sampling of games and at bats, we’re in a much better position to see the trends in the minors and who’s really hot, and who’s really not. Let’s take a look:
Garrett Whitlock: The Yankees’ 18th round pick in the 2017 draft has been lights out. He made his high-A debut with the Tampa Tarpons and tossed six innings of shutout ball. So far this season, including seven starts for low-A Charleston, Whitlock is 2-2 with a 0.98 ERA, just 28 hits allowed in 46 innings, 52 strikeouts and eight walks. He’s one to watch and only turns 22 in June.
Pablo Olivares: Can you say smokin’? The center fielder for Charleston is hitting .419 over his last 10 games.
Jhalan Jackson: After a miserable start to the season, the right fielder for Double-A Trenton has hit .281 over this last 10 games and has his season average up to .230. Still has tremendous power — nine home runs on the season — but still strikes out way too much (44% K rate).
Shane Robinson: The free agent pickup who had a cameo in the majors continues to mash Triple-A pitching, and is 11 for his last 36, bringing his season average to .284. His prospects of a major league return are diminished by Clint Frazier being healthy, but you never know.
Oswaldo Cabrera: The 19-year-old second baseman for the Charleston RiverDogs is on an 0-for-19 skid and hitting .188 for the season. It would not be a surprise to see him sent to Staten Island once the short-season campaign begins.
Jeff Hendrix: The right fielder for the Trenton Thunder is 2-for-23 since coming off the disabled list. Clearly, he’s still getting his timing back.
Trey Amburgey: The center fielder for Trenton is slashing .206/.242/.341 in his first season at Double-A.
WHO’S HOT OR NOT?
Dillon Tate: The Thunder righthander, who came over in the Carlos Beltran trade, has good surface numbers – 2-2 with a 3.48 ERA. But he doesn’t strike out many (33 in 41.1 innings on the year), though he has a very good ground ball rate (62%). If he can get those K’s up, he might regain that prospect shine.