Seth Keller got off to the best start of any of the Atlanta Braves’ 2022 draftees, but an injury derailed a promising season.
Keller was drafted in the sixth round of the 2022 MLB Draft out of Hanover High School in Virginia.
Preseason Report Card
Keller has many of the traits the Braves look for in young pitchers, playing on both sides of the ball in high school and bringing plus athleticism to the rubber. Keller was a Day 2 pick for the Braves, but they went overslot to sign him. He had a very short and uninspiring professional debut in 2022, but this didn’t put a damper on excitement surrounding the young righty. Keller’s split changeup was one of the best offspeed pitches in the 2022 draft, and was expected to be the core of his developing three-pitch arsenal. He had solid velocity and command of his fastball, and a slider that needed refinement but provided flashes of potential.
What we saw in 2023
Keller seemed ready for full-season ball at the outset of 2023, rattling off three straight scoreless outings to start the season. Single-A hitters struggled to get any solid contact against his changeup, and he continued his dominance into May. After six starts, Keller had a 1.17 ERA, a 2.83 FIP, and had struck out 22 batters to only three walks across 23 innings. He was the most consistent of Augusta’s starters, with the only real bug being a probably-irrelevant five hit batters in that span.
Unfortunately Keller hit the injured list after his outing on May 18, and no longer seemed like the same pitcher when he returned a month later. To call the remainder of the season catastrophic would be short-selling just how much Keller struggled: he had more walks (24) than innings pitched (23) over his final ten games and hit as many batters (10) as he struck out. His only saving grace was his avoidance of home runs, but in any event he never had a truly good start after his stint on the shelf. He threw 5 1⁄3 hitless innings on July 30th as part of a combined no-hitter, but even then, walked five batters in the process. The velocity drop he experienced after his return is a huge concern, but it wasn’t just velocity that was at issue, as he failed to have a single outing with more strikeouts than walks and hit batters after returning from injury.
The tale of two seasons for Keller is baffling, and there were times that it made no sense that he was even still active. The velocity drop suggests that he was still battling with something, but the Braves still felt he was healthy enough to pitch consistently. This wrinkle makes it hard to evaluate Keller’s development (or lack thereof), and if the injury really has thrown a wrench into his pitching, then there’s even greater concern about the forecast for an undersized pitcher who already carries substantial reliever risk.
Still, Keller was unbelievably good for the first month and a half of the season, and if he comes back healthy with the arsenal he showcased early, there is no reason to believe he can’t go ahead and make the jump to High-A Rome. He’ll be one of the key players to watch going into 2024, just to see which version of him shows up. Early on, Keller was on course to be one of the top pitching prospects in the system, and there is still plenty of time for the 19-year-old to right this ship.