The perfect end to Brad Keller’s victory Sunday wasn’t his teammate's walk-off RBI, closing the first half of the season on a five-game team winning streak or pitching three-hit ball through six innings.
Following the Kane County Cougars’ 4-3 win over Peoria last weekend, Keller, a Flowery Branch High graduate, spent a relaxing dinner in downtown Chicago with his parents Dan and Patty, and his aunt and uncle, Kim and Mike Pisano.
Playing 140 games in a season is a lonely journey, according to Keller, without a strong support system.
“It’s a long season; you have to get your mind off of baseball every so often,” he said Tuesday in a phone interview from Geneva, Ill. “You’ve got to treasure your moments with them. They’re your family, and it’s a lot better time with them. They keep you going, so it’s awesome when they can come out.”
It was the first time Keller’s parents had been able to watch their son play pro ball since he signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks organization in 2013. They tried to join him for a home game during the pitcher’s first year in the Arizona League, but a rain out forced the rotation to change.
After hopping between three teams in the rookie classifications, Keller has found solid ground with Kane County in the Midwest League, where he occasionally faces former Gainesville High standout Michael Gettys, who’s with the Fort Wayne TinCaps.
Expectations are high for Keller, an eighth round draft pick coming out of Flowery Branch. Cougars pitching coach Doug Bochtler said Tuesday that the 19-year old has shown strong use of his fastball, his sinker, and has improved his command on the mound.
“I look at Brad, and I’d say he looks like he’s a No. 3 starter in the big leagues,” said Bochtler, who helped coach Keller during his time with the Missoula Osprey in Montana. “With the stuff he runs out there every day, he’s got the work ethic to go along with it. It’s a tribute to how hard he’s worked.”
Keller (3-7, 2.80 ERA) has started 14 games on the mound so far this season, giving up 76 hits and striking out 65 in 80.1 innings. The Flowery Branch graduate said he’s “getting smarter” about managing a game, and wants to make sure he completes strikeouts quickly. Despite Keller’s hard-luck win-loss record, Bochtler said he’s enjoyed seeing Keller grow each time he makes a start.
Keller said he’s ready to make the next move, if and when the organization believes he’s ready for a promotion. For now, he’s focused on taking Kane County (36-32) to a second consecutive Midwest League title. Heading into this week’s All-Star break, the Cougars are nine games back in the Western division race.
“I’ve done what I’ve done, and it’s so far, so good,” he said. “I’m pretty pleased with it. I’d really like to see this team make the playoffs and win it all. I’m pretty pumped to see how this team plays out.”
Keller said he’s not concerned in monitoring the organization’s projections, and that he’s fully focused on helping his team perform. The right-hander struck out 87 batters in just over 60 innings during his senior year as an ace for Flowery Branch.
Keller began his baseball journey as a Falcon, and is continuing it throughout the Midwest this year, from Ohio to Iowa to Michigan. Bochtler said he wouldn’t be surprised if Keller remains in Single-A for a little while longer.
“It’s nice to see him enjoying success, and having him marinate in that,” Bochtler said. “Whether they let him enjoy that or push him up, that’s up to them. He’s such a young player, and they’ll move him when they deem him ready.”