This is the saga that former Cal-State Northridge lefty Jerry Keel was forced to endure. Keel, 21, was a Freshman All-American at CSUN, and went 6-3 with a 2.07 ERA in 91.1 innings for the Matadors in 2012. Keel had another solid season his sophomore season, when his luck seemingly changed for the worst.
Keel was in position to be taken in the 2014 draft after his junior year, but he just couldn’t pad his stat sheet with victories. He pitched 8.2 innings in a start against Hawaii, in which he struck out 10 batters, but somehow took a no-decision. He still pitched to a solid 3.64 ERA, but his ugly record obviously scared teams off. He went undrafted in 2014.
Keel didn’t allow a frustrating season to impact him long-term, as he had a fine, bounce-back senior season for CSUN. Keel went 5-7, with a 2.61 ERA in his final college season, and his persistency paid off, as the San Diego Padres selected him in the 9th round of the 2015 MLB Draft. Keel left the Northridge program as the all-time leader in innings pitched with 370.1 innings, and his 2.75 ERA ranks seventh all-time at the Big West school.
After a long college season, Keel has pitched exclusively out of the bullpen for the Tri City Dust Devils. Overall, Keel has been solid, pitching to a 3.00 ERA in 33 innings spread out over 19 appearances. Keel is one of the many mammoth pitchers San Diego selected in the 2015 season, standing at 6’6 and 240lbs. Keel was gracious enough to talk to us for a few minutes before a recent Dust Devils game.
Have you had a chance to work with any of the roving pitching instructors in the Padres’ system?
Jerry Keel: Yeah, here and there. I had a chance to meet Mark Prior and Eric Junge in Peoria after being drafted. Mark came in and visited, and we had some good conversations. I have had a lot of interaction with them so far.
What type of advice did they give you?
Jerry Keel: They mostly just checked in and gave little tips here and there. My pitching coach (Dust Devils pitching coach Nelson Cruz) has worked with me quite a bit. He has been working with me to stay closed in my delivery and to finish more consistently. He has preached the importance of playing catch to keep my arm loose. The only way to get better is to keep throwing.
What type of fastball do you throw? Are you more of a two-seam or a four-seam guy?
Jerry Keel: I throw a two-seam. It sits at 89-92 MPH, and runs away from righties, and I try to pound the inside corner to lefties.
In regards to your fastball, have you seen an increase in velocity since moving to the bullpen?
Jerry Keel: No, it has been pretty steady. I haven’t really done anything to improve the velocity or thrown differently, in order to gain a little extra. I have been focused much more on maintaining my velocity, and it has been pretty steady this season, which is good. In between starts, I have been playing catch to stay loose. The goal in the near-future is to continue to build up strength.
Your junior year, your stats looked good overall, but somehow your record was 0-11. What did you do to stay positive in that situation?
Jerry Keel: I had a few bad starts and tried to do too much at times. I was overthrowing the ball and I was pressing a little bit. I had some good starts too, but for some reason, I just didn’t get a win.
After being a starter for four seasons at Northridge, you’ve pitched exclusively out of the pen for Tri City. Do you see yourself as a starter in 2016?
Jerry Keel: At this point I will do whatever the Padres need from me. We’ve had a rotation within the bullpen; a lot of guys are on a pretty normal pitching schedule, so it has helped with the routine. Most of us all have the same amount of appearances so it evens out. The first part of the season was a bit of an adjustment. It was all new, so I had to fine a routine that worked for me. Ultimately, I’d like to start, but I am perfectly happy to do whatever the organization wants from me.
With the season drawing near its conclusion, what are you going to be working on this off-season?
Jerry Keel: I definitely want to get stronger and more explosive. I plan on playing a lot of long toss to keep myself stretched out. I’ll continue to build strength and be ready to go in the spring.