Minor League Sports

Former Cedar Rapids Xavier prep Mitch Keller climbs to Triple-A: Minor league notebook

Former Cedar Rapids Xavier prep Mitch Keller pitching for the Bradenton Marauders. (Marty Morrow/A Plus Pro Photo)
Former Cedar Rapids Xavier prep Mitch Keller pitching for the Bradenton Marauders. (Marty Morrow/A Plus Pro Photo)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Mitch Keller got called into his manager’s office earlier this week for a closed-door meeting.

Michael Ryan of the Altoona Curve laid into the former Cedar Rapids Xavier prep for not hustling on a groundball the pitcher hit in a game. Pitchers begin hitting in the minor leagues at the Double-A level when two National League affiliates play each other.

Keller stuttered and stammered, assured his manager it would never happen again. Ryan just looked at him.

“Oh, and you’re going to Triple-A,” Ryan said.

The 22-year-old right-hander was scheduled to make his first start Saturday night for the Indianapolis Indians at Columbus. Keller deserved this promotion, as he went 9-2 with a 2.72 earned run average in 14 starts this season for Altoona.

That included a .208 opponent batting average. Keller gave up just 64 hits in 86 innings.

“He’s the ultimate competitor,” Ryan told the Altoona Mirror. “If he doesn’t have a good outing, he can’t wait to get back out there for the next one. Average starters maybe dread the four days in between and think about it a lot if they don’t have a good outing.”

Keller hasn’t had many of those in his five-year pro career. He was a second-round draft pick of the Pirates in 2014 and has steadily and dominantly climbed the minor-league level.

He’s not on the Pirates’ 40-man major league roster and doesn’t have to be until this offseason. The kid still is on the cusp of the big leagues.

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“Mitch is the ultimate competitor and wants to kick your butt,” Ryan told the Altoona Mirror. “He shows it every fifth day when he’s out there.”

Booker books it to Double-A

Former Iowa Hawkeyes outfielder Joel Booker was promoted last week by the Chicago White Sox from high-Class A Winston-Salem to Double-A Birmingham.

The 24-year-old native North Carolinian hit .297 in 53 games for Winston-Salem, including a steal of home to win a game in the ninth inning.

Booker is off to a 13-for-35 start at Birmingham, with a home run and three RBIs.

Jax a full-time pitcher

Former Cedar Rapids Kernels pitcher Griffin Jax has been allowed to pursue his professional baseball career full time, and is with high-Class A Fort Myers in the Minnesota Twins system.

Jax, a third-round draft pick in 2016, pitched last season only on a leave from the military after graduating from the Air Force Academy. He was assigned to a full-time job at Cape Cavaneral Air Force Base in Florida.

But in May, he qualified for the academy’s World Class Athlete Program, which allows outstanding athletes to train for Olympic sports. Baseball has become an Olympic sport again.

Jax, 23, is 1-0 with a 3.70 ERA in four starts for Fort Myers.

l Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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