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Lamplighter Extra - Justin Burkholder, David Keller

A passion for the game

How did he get to the major leagues? What's it like to be a major league baseball scout?

What was it like being Erik Kratz's teammate?

What are his favorite Dock memories?

David Keller ('99), now a scout for the New York Mets, has the answers.

David Keller

  • Dock Class of 1999

  • Bucknell University Class of 2003 (Business Administration)

  • Professional Scout, New York Mets

  • Wife Katherine, two sons, 5 and 8

  • Parents are David and Grace Keller

David Keller has worked in the front office or as a scout for five major league teams, and while his first job in major league baseball was with the Philadelphia Phillies, it may have been a stint with the now-defunct Camden River Sharks—an unaffiliated minor league team across the Delaware River from Citizens Bank Park—that propelled his career in baseball.

His title for the Sharks was Director of Baseball Operations, and his responsibilities included everything from negotiating contracts to scouting international players. "There were moments of frustration, but I was 26 years old, and getting to do all of those things was an invaluable experience for me," Keller says. 

Through his work for the River Sharks, Keller got to meet AJ Hinch, the current manager of the Houston Astros who at the time was running the farm system for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Hinch eventually hired Keller for his first scouting job. "I felt like I had the leadership ability and skills I wanted to continue to grow and develop, but I felt like I needed to learn how to evaluate [talent]," he says.

In 2009 Keller joined the Mets as a scout, then two years later was hired by the Boston Red Sox. He scouted for the Sox for three years, including a World Series championship experience in 2013. He then joined the Miami Marlins and was eventually named Director of Pro Scouting. After three "long and interesting years," Keller was fired for the first time in his life—but less than a year later, he was back with the Mets as a pro scout, the position he holds currently. 

Top right: David Keller and his son at Citifield, home of the New York Mets.
Right: David during his stint with the Miami Marlins.
Below: Pitching wiffle ball to kids was just one of the fun things Justin Burkholder got to do during his summer working in The Yard.


Q&A with David Keller

Q: Did you always want to be in baseball?

A: Like most kids, I wanted to be a player. I wanted to live Erik Kratz's life. My dream was like every other kid's, but my skill level didn't provide for that. I was well prepared for other opportunities, though. I worked in the admissions office at Bucknell, recruiting student-athletes, when I was contacted by a local high school about coaching their baseball team. I wasn't married yet, so I thought this would be a good opportunity. I went to the college and asked if I could [coach on the side]. My boss said, 'I can tell this is important to you. If you can promise me that nothing will fall through the cracks, then go for it.' 

Q: Your first job in pro baseball as with the Phillies. How did that come about?

A: When I was coaching high school baseball, I spent more time thinking about baseball and how to help the team achieve what they wanted to achieve than anything else. That was the first clear indicator to me I needed to try to get into baseball as a career. I sent resumes and cover letters to every major and minor league team, and the Phillies were one of only three teams to respond. They brought me in for an interview, and a VP with the Phillies, Kurt Funk, said I was the best interview he'd had in 20 years. So he offered me the job in marketing. He pulled me in one day and asked how I felt about marketing vs operations, I told him that the more I'm around it, I feel like I can do something in baseball operations. So he set up a time for me to talk to [then General Manager] Ed Wade, and that’s how I wrangled my way into baseball operations.

[continued below]

Above: Watch a quick interview with Justin Burkholder at The Yard, the interactive kids playground at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.

Q&A with David Keller (continued)

Q: You mentioned your Dock teammate, Erik Kratz. He had quite a ride last year for the Brewers; what are your thoughts on his career?

A: This is not going to surprise you, but having been a teammate of Erik's, I can tell you that all of his teammates love him. Whether they appreciate his faith or not, they all love having him on the team. That’s a really unique and special quality. He will have the opportunity to coach and manage, if that’s what he wants to do.

Q: What's it like being a scout? How much of player evaluation is numbers vs. intangibles?

A: Player evaluation has changed dramatically, because the type of information and the science we have access to has changed dramatically. Teams have invested heavily in sports science and information, and we now just have a lot more data. The one consistent thing about scouting is that the best evaluators are the ones who can take all of the information about a player and blend it with what they see and what they know about the human element. At the end of the day, the game is still played by human beings, and they are fallible, they are volatile, and they can’t be put in one box. The data is helpful, and it supports what you see, but often the separator between two players with similar numbers are things you can’t see—such as what’s in a player’s heart.

We all want players we like to excel, especially those that remind us of ourselves. And I regret recommending players who never quite performed up to expectations. A couple times I've said, 'Wow, I missed that one.' Failure is part of evaluating human beings.

Q: Can you elaborate on that? Do you watch how baseball prospects handle failure?

A: You're not guaranteed much in the game of baseball. But what you are guaranteed is that you will face adversity and you will fail. How you respond is often times more telling than what you failed at. Even within a game, I am very aware of moments that matter. Everyone looks like a great teammate when they hit a 3-run homer, but not everyone looks like a great teammate when they get punched out three times in a row. How do you handle striking out three times in A ball vs. the big leagues? All of those little things have become a big part of my job. To study those little things, and to be mindful that players are human beings is of the utmost importance.

Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

A: Where I see myself is dependent on where others see me. I have a vision of where I’d like to be, but at the end of the day we rely on other people to identify that potential in us. I work every day to be the best I can be. I hope people are keeping score and taking notice, and I would love to be part of a leadership group again, but that’s not guaranteed. Mainly I want to be in a place where I continue to love what I do, a place where, ultimately, I have the opportunity to be a positive influence on other people’s lives.

Q: What are some of your Dock memories?

A: In addition to baseball, I played a little bit of basketball. I sang in touring choir with Mr. Derstine; he was always on me to sing louder. I was in National Honor Society and Student Senate. There were so many incredible teachers, it's hard to single out one, but Dr. Bishop, wow, he was probably the one that had the biggest impact on me. I remember him saying, 'I'm not to prepare the path for my child, but to prepare my child for the path.' Dr Bishop prepared us for what was to come, and he did it in a way that was creative, humorous and showed a touch of empathy. I always felt like he had 14 cups of coffee before he taught class.

Q: What about a favorite baseball memory?

A: One that stands out is the game my junior year against Holy Ghost, and I came up with bases loaded. I hit a ball that absolutely would have gone out, except they didn't have any fences, so it wound up being a bases-clearing double. That was a huge adrenaline rush; I didn't even feel my legs.

Q: How does your faith inform what you do?

A: Faith has been instilled in me from a young age, and it's something I have relied on and leaned on through what can be a challenging professional life. Understanding that there is a reason and a purpose behind everything, even though I may not know it at the time, but that things happen for a reason. God is a presence in my life that I always try to be aware of.

I sang in touring choir with Mr. Derstine; he was always on me to sing louder. Dr Bishop prepared us for what was to come, and he did it in a way that was creative, humorous and showed a touch of empathy. I always felt like he had 14 cups of coffee before he taught class.