Entering his senior year at Flowery Branch, Brad Keller thought his baseball future was set in stone.
He spent his last year with the Falcons signed to Presbyterian College, a small Division I school in South Carolina about two hours away. It was the only offer he had.
A year and a half later, the high-velocity pitcher has found himself sharing a locker room with Major League Baseball players at times as a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks organization.
“Going into my senior year, I thought there was no way I’d be where I am today,” Keller said. “I thought there was no chance that anything this crazy could happen. Sure enough, it happened.
“To this day, it still blows my mind.”
With the 2014 MLB Draft approaching Thursday, almost a full year has come and gone since Keller heard his name called.
The 6-foot-5, 230-pound right-hander with a fastball that reaches 95 miles per hour was selected by the Diamondbacks in the eighth round of last year’s draft with the 240th overall pick.
What would’ve been a quiet summer before heading to Presbyterian to begin his college career quickly turned into a 1,900-mile trip across the country to Scottsdale, Ariz., where Keller began his professional career in the Arizona Rookie League.
He didn’t disappoint. Throwing against fellow recent draftees, he posted a 7-3 record in 13 appearances — 12 of them starts — for a 2.22 ERA and 61 strikeouts.
“The stats don’t matter that much; they just want to see you get your work in,” Keller said. “They keep a win-loss record, but it’s pretty much just letting you get your work in, and letting the coaches see you for a while and fine-tune things.”
So far, coaches like what they see.
“Everything has been positive,” Keller said. “They talk to us about every start and every inning, and what happened.”
After an encouraging 2013 campaign in Scottsdale, Keller was called up to the Missoula Osprey, the Diamondbacks’ rookie advance team in the Class A Pioneer League. He made three appearances, including one start, and struck out four batters over six innings while posting a 4.50 ERA.
That added another 1,200-mile trek to his season total, but he may not be done just yet.
Keller will either report back to Missoula for the team’s July 16 season opener against the Helena Brewers, or he’ll travel further west to Oregon to pitch for the Hillsboro Hops, the Diamondbacks’ top short-season Class A team.
Either way, his baseball career is alive and well with the Diamondbacks.
“The organization does really at letting the young guys get their work,” Keller said. “They just let me go out there and prove myself. It was a blast. I’m loving every second of it.”
Keller graduated from Flowery Branch in 2013, going 6-4 with a 2.16 ERA and 87 strikeouts during his senior season. The Falcons went 16-11 and reached the Class AAAAA state playoffs that year.
He had extensive contact with the Diamondbacks throughout his senior season, including an individual workout with the team.
Shortly after signing his first contract in the weeks following his selection, his new home became a Days Inn hotel room across the road from the Salt River Fields baseball complex in Scottsdale.
“All our players are together, two to a room,” Keller said. “It’s a good environment we’re in. They supply us with everything. It’s walking distance from the field. We don’t have to travel anywhere, so it’s really nice.”
Along the way, Keller has seen reminders of future possibilities.
In Missoula, the outfield walls and the home team locker room feature pictures of Osprey alumni who have reached the majors. The list includes MLB All-Stars Paul Goldschmidt and Carlos Gonzalez, veteran infielder Lyle Overbay and closer Jose Valverde.
Current Diamondbacks catcher and 2011 All-Star Miguel Montero caught one of Keller’s starts during spring training. Two more major league players, Eric Chavez and now-Seattle infielder Willie Bloomquist, played in the field behind him.
After the game, Keller and Montero worked out together.
“We talked for a solid two hours about everything,” Keller said. “Baseball, life.”
Keller boards an airplane today for what might be his only visit to Georgia this year. Once short season is over, he’ll begin Fall Instructional League play in October.
It’s a hectic way of life, but Keller wouldn’t change a thing.
“I love this organization and everything about it,” he said. “Just a classy organization.”