Who is the new LA Angels reliever Kyle Keller?
By Ryan Falla
The LA Angels have swung a trade with the Miami Marlins for the 26-year-old reliever Kyle Keller. Keller pitched 10.2 innings for the Marlins in 2019, his first MLB looks, and struck out 11 while allowing 4 runs. Headed to Miami in the trade is catcher Jose Estrada, a 19-year-old prospect in the Angels system.
Did the LA Angels just swing a trade for their next top-level bullpen arm? Kyle Keller was a highly regarded prospect in the Marlins system thanks to a fascinating MiLB career that has seen him absolutely dazzle hitters with an extreme strikeout ability.
Throughout 5 MiLB seasons Keller has maintained an even 12 K/9 rate off the strength of his two-pitch power combo; a fastball that can touch up to 97mph backed up by a hard breaking slider. He displays a high pitching I.Q that has allowed him to continually deploy his arsenal with success through all levels of the Minors.
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In 2019 Keller pitched 54 Triple A innings and maintained a 12.2 K/9 rate while 2018 saw Keller pitch from High A to Triple A with a 13.3 K/9 rate through a combined 52.2 innings of work. When Keller finally hit the Majors for his first looks he did as many prospects do; Kyle Keller showed off both his worst and best traits in those 10.2 innings of MLB work by striking out 11 and allowing 4 runs while walking eight total hitters and hitting two more along the way.
As fantastic as Keller has shown his strikeout ability to be, the one thing holding him back from achieving him high ceiling is his lack of control. Now this trade is starting to sound about right for the Angels; targeting a high ability, struggling youth is right in Angels GM Billy Eppler’s wheelhouse, and he has shown great ability in plucking out young relievers on the cusp of finding themselves.
You were probably wondering why the Angels were able to buy so low on him despite how lights out his stuff and ability can be. His lack of control makes him a massive liability in the bullpen. It is still strange that such a high upside prospect would get traded away so lightly, but again this is the Marlins franchise whom is willfully stuck in a never-ending rebuild.
Also, the Angels and Marlins already have a well-tuned working relationship after last years offseason swap of prospective Angels reliever Tyler Stevens for Marlins starter Dillon Peters so it makes sense that Eppler would be able to pull off a trade with Miami so easily.
Keller’s 2019 MiLB BB/9 rate of 3.3 is far from what you would want to see with this Angels pen that has shown difficulty maintaining poise as the innings rack up on their arms. But then again last year was an awful display of overworking your bullpen thanks to a terribly ineffective starting rotation.
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Things look to trend upwards with the fresh-faced coaching staff on the Angels, especially with new pitching coach Mickey Callaway on board to right the ship. Callaway had incredible success during his tenure as the Indians pitching coach from 2013-2017, with then manager Terry Francona crediting Callaway as a key to their World Series run in 2016.
The Angels may be one of the best situations Kyle Keller could find himself in. Being surrounding by an invigorated coaching staff that has seen its individual members find great success on their own can only do good things for a player trying to find his way. Angels manager Joe Maddon and pitching coach Mickey Callaway have been known to work wonders with young up and coming athletes, this isn’t just the perfect situation for Keller but for a lot of the young prospects on the rise.
Kyle Keller very much has the potential to pitch successful in higher leverage situations but as of now he’s coming into the Angels as an unreliable reliever with a stark lack of control. This Angels staff can do very good things for Kyle Keller and that in itself makes this a great move. The organization doesn’t have to give up much of anything and in return they’ve netted a high upside reliever at no risk.
Kyle Keller, at worst, gives the Angels another arm in the bullpen to mop up innings and at best they’ve landed a pitcher who can offer success in high leverage situations.