Brad Keller’s season for the Royals is over. Manager Ned Yost announced to reporters today that the right-hander has been showing signs of arm fatigue and will not pitch again in 2019 (Twitter link via Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com).
Keller’s shutdown removes Kansas City’s best starting pitcher from the rotation, though the organization and fans alike are likely relieved that there’s no serious injury at play. Right-hander Jorge Lopez and lefty Eric Skoglund are both in the rotation this weekend and could see increased opportunities down the stretch with Keller no longer in the mix for starts.
The 24-year-old Keller saw his innings total make a somewhat modest increase from 140 1/3 in 2018 to 165 1/3 in 2019. He didn’t quite replicate last year’s excellence, when he posted a 3.08 ERA with 6.2 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, 0.45 HR/9 and a 54.4 percent ground-ball rate. Keller did, however, enjoy a second consecutive quality season, compiling a 4.19 earned run average with 6.6 K/9, 3.8 BB/9, 0.82 HR/9 and a 50 percent grounder rate. While the uptick in walks is of mild concern, Keller’s ability to keep the ball in the yard (and on the ground, in particular) was maintained even at a time when home-run rates throughout the league exploded.
By the time the season has wrapped up, Keller will have racked up two full years of big league service, putting him on pace to become eligible for arbitration following the 2020 season. He’s gone from a flier in the 2017 Rule 5 Draft to a hands-down member of the Kansas City rotation and is easily among the most successful Rule 5 selections in recent memory. The loss of Keller no doubt stings for the Diamondbacks, who received no compensation for him in the aforementioned Rule 5 process and have seen several pitching injuries crop up this season. Such statements are easy to make with the benefit of hindsight, and trades have alleviated some of the depth issues for the D-backs, but they’d surely take a mulligan on protecting Keller, given the opportunity.
Looking down the road, Keller, Danny Duffy and Jakob Junis are the sure things in next year’s rotation for the Royals. Other options currently on the 40-man roster include Lopez, Skoglund, Mike Montgomery, Glenn Sparkman, Trevor Oaks, Heath Fillmyer and Scott Blewett. Beyond that largely underwhelming group is a collection of more promising arms, headlined by recent draftees such as Brady Singer, Daniel Lynch, Jackson Kowar and Kris Bubic. Any of that bunch could conceivably reach the big leagues next season, giving the Kansas City organization some hope for better days in the not-too-distant future. That said, it still wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Royals add some veteran options to the starting mix this offseason as a means of bridging the gap.