Perseverance Earns Former Lion an MLB Spot

(Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

HAMMOND, La. – Former Southeastern Louisiana pitcher Kyle Keller completed the long climb up the professional baseball ladder, making his Major League debut Sunday in St. Petersburg, Florida with 1.2 innings in relief for the Miami Marlins.

“To see all his hard work come to fruition and have the opportunity, I’m proud of him,” head coach Matt Riser said. “He’s living out a childhood dream.”

A member of the Lions’ record-setting 2015 squad, Keller struck out one and walked one before eventually allowing a run on a solo home run. The hard-throwing right-hander closed out the Marlins’ 7-2 loss to the Tampa Rays at Tropicana Field, topping out at 96 mph with his fastball.

Keller joins Houston Astros’ left-hander Wade Miley as Southeastern alums in the Majors this season. The pair are part of 13 former Lions currently playing professionally, the most of any Southland Conference program.

“He is the epitome of perseverance,” Riser said. “Keller came in as a walk-on, a high academic kid. He was a little hesitant about coming across the lake and leaving the city of New Orleans, but he trusted us to help build him up as a player and a person. His first two years here, he only threw a handful of innings but he fought hard to earn a rotation spot his junior season. He’s done a fantastic job, every moment he’s been challenged, of finding a way to persevere.”

After earning a spot in the Lions’ starting rotation, Keller transitioned to the bullpen as a senior. He picked up a pair of wins and a pair of saves, helping the Lions to a program-best 42-17 record. The right-hander turned in a 2.75 ERA in 36 innings of work, fanning 40 batters and limiting opponents to a .217 batting average.

Drafted by the Marlins in the 18th round (536 overall) of the 2015 draft, Keller logged appearances with all of Miami’s minor league affiliates. Following the draft, he logged innings with Single-A teams in Batavia, New York, Greensboro, North Carolina and Jupiter, Florida.

The right-hander from New Orleans, Louisiana, came into his own during a two-year stint in Greensboro. During the 2016 and 2017 seasons, Keller compiled a 5-2 record, 12 saves and a 2.72 ERA in 112.2 innings of work. He struck out 143 batters and walked just 34, chalking up a 4.2 K/BB ratio.

“A senior sign, signing for $1000, the odds are stacked against him to make it to the Majors,” Riser said. “He never got frustrated, just did what he does best – compete and work.”

He experienced a meteoric rise through the Marlins’ system in 2018, spending time at Single-A Jupiter, Double-A Jacksonville (Fla.) and Triple-A New Orleans while combining for a 2-4 record, 12 more saves and a 3.08 ERA in 52.2 combined innings of work.

Following 35 appearances with both Jacksonville and New Orleans this season, Keller was recalled by the Marlins Aug. 1. Over the course of 161 minor league appearances, he has a 9-12 record with 28 saves and a 3.61 ERA.

“Keller embodies everything we are and who we are,” Riser said. “He’s a great story of perseverance.”

Article courtesy of Southeastern Sports Information Department.

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