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MLB Breakdown #4: Pittsburgh’s No. 1 and 2 Prospects Highlight Final Two Weeks

Mitch Keller and Ke’Bryan Hayes each went on historic runs to end the season
Right-handed pitcher Mitch Keller ended the season with 11.0 no-hit innings in his final two starts. (Photo from Pittsburgh Pirates)
September 28, 2020

The 2020 MLB slate of 60 regular-season games has come to a close, and with it so does a season of building toward the future for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The 2020 MLB slate of 60 regular-season games has come to a close, and with it so does a season of building toward the future for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

With the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 draft presumably in its pocket – as long as the order is based on 2020 record alone – Pittsburgh is poised to add big names to a budding core of prospects who have already shown their potential in the big leagues.

Starting pitcher Mitch Keller and third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes, who entered the season as the Pirates No. 1 and 2 prospects by Baseball America, respectively, made their presence known in the final two weeks of the season. They each shined with historic performances to all but solidify their spots on Pittsburgh’s 2021 Opening Day roster.

RHP Mitch Keller

In a season where nothing was expected, Keller’s 2020 campaign followed suit. After making his major league debut and being named the International League Pitcher of the Year in 2019, the former Indianapolis hurler was sidelined for most of 2020 with an oblique injury suffered on Aug. 1 at Chicago (NL).

Keller returned to the bump on Sept. 14 in the nightcap of a doubleheader at Cincinnati and surrendered three earned runs in as many innings. That performance rose his ERA to 5.06 (6er/10.2ip) with eight walks to seven strikeouts and a .243 opponent batting average.

What happened over his next two starts was even better than the Pirates could hope for in a future ace and anchor of the pitching staff. Keller, who tossed 5.0 two-hit innings in his season debut on July 26, pitched 6.0 no-hit innings on Sept. 19 vs. St. Louis. He was pulled from the game with a strict pitch count in just his second start back from the injured list, but he wasn’t done.

On Sept. 25 at Cleveland, his fifth and final start of the season, he did it again. Hindered by eight walks, Keller only lasted 5.0 innings but again held his opponent hitless through the outing. His consecutive gems made him the first National League pitcher with back-to-back no-hit outings of 5.0-or-more innings since Johnny Vander Meer in 1938, two years prior to Vander Meer pitching for the Indianapolis Indians.

Keller finished the season with a 2.91 ERA (7er/21.2ip), .132 average against and 18 walks to 16 strikeouts.

INF Ke’Bryan Hayes

Hayes, who has more than earned himself a right to be Pittsburgh’s everyday third baseman in 2021, finished the season stronger than he started it.

He hit safely in his final eight games of the season beginning on Sept. 19 – exactly where we left off in MLB Breakdown #3 – and collected five multi-hit games for a .516 batting average (16-for-31) with four doubles, three home runs and four RBI.

On Sept. 26, Hayes had the best day of his career, minor leagues included. He went 5-for-5 with three doubles at Cleveland to break his career-best four-hit performance, which was last met on Aug. 23, 2019 with Indianapolis. His three doubles matched a career high, set on June 1, 2018 with Double-A Altoona.

With a single in his final at-bat on Sept. 25, his perfect five-hit performance and two hits in his first two at-bats on Sept. 27, Hayes became the first Pirates player with eight straight hits since Andy Van Slyke in 1994.

The 23-year-old finished the season slashing .376/.442/.682 with 14 extra-base hits and 11 RBI through 24 games since debuting on Sept. 1.