Detroit Tigers: It’s time to pay attention to Colt Keith

Detroit Tigers prospect Colt Keith during 2020 instructional league play in Lakeland, Florida.
Detroit Tigers prospect Colt Keith during 2020 instructional league play in Lakeland, Florida. /

When the Detroit Tigers signed infielder Colt Keith in the fifth round of the 2020 MLB Draft, it was viewed as something of a coup.

MLB Pipeline ranked Keith as the 87th player in the draft class, while Prospects Live had him 80th, and Baseball America ran him all the way up to 57. So when Keith made it out of the third round without being selected, it was widely assumed he would be heading to Arizona State.

But then Detroit swooped in with 132nd overall pick and nabbed the talented youngster. It was the coup de grâce in an already strong draft class, and frankly, it seemed like a very un-Tigers thing to do. They’ve not had much success with prep players taken after the first round, so they’ve largely chosen to stick with college players.

The expectations for Colt Keith were high — we ranked him as the 18th best prospect in the system before he ever played a pro game — but the lack of a minor-league season meant fans had to wait a long time to see him in action.

Colt Keith Finally Plays

Colt Keith made his pro debut on June 8th, when he went 1-for-3 with a single, a walk, and a run scored for Low-A Lakeland. He stayed afloat for the rest of the month, batting .225/.326/.300 over his first 12 games.

But Colt Keith has flipped a switch in July, and for the month he’s batting .356/.472/.424 in 17 games. It’s not just an empty stat line either, as Keith has been impressing onlookers, like friend-of-the-site James Chipman:

A few days later he blasted his first pro home run. Then an older interview popped up with our friends/bitter rivals at Bless You Boys. And then he was one of the two guests on the latest episode of the Road to Detroit Podcast, hosted by our friend Dan Hasty.

If you travel in our small baseball circle, it seems like Colt Keith is everywhere right now. But this might be just the beginning.

Colt Keith’s Stats

Anyone who gets into baseball prospects inevitably learns minor-league statistics mean very little. Baseball Reference is littered with players who put up massive minor-league numbers, only to flame out at the highest level, or not even make it to the bigs at all.

But when we look at minor-league stats there are a few numbers that strongly suggest a player will, at the very least, be an interesting prospect in the coming years. The first is success at a young age, and the second is a strong walk rate.

Which brings us back to 19-year-old Colt Keith.

His sample size is still very small (114 PA), but Keith is currently batting .302/.412/.375 overall, with a 14% walk rate and a 25.4% strikeout rate.

The strikeouts are a bit high, and the power hasn’t quite arrived, but that line is good for a 125 wRC+ right now, meaning he is producing at a rate 25% better than the average Low-A Southeast hitter.

That’s rare territory for a Detroit Tigers prospect. Below you’ll see a table of every Tigers teenager to produce a wRC+ of at least 120 in a full-season league since 2006:

So that’s Colt Keith, and five players who have reached the big leagues. Domingo Leyba hasn’t been able to stick on a roster, and we haven’t seen much from Isaac Paredes yet, but Cameron Maybin has enjoyed a lengthy career, and Nick Castellanos and Willy Adames are All-Stars.

Again, we’re talking about a small sample here, and pitchers in the low minors aren’t known for their stellar control, so Keith’s numbers could change drastically over the next month.

But he seems to have adjusted to the league well. Hitters luck into batting .300 all the time, particularly over small samples. And in the low minors they may even luck into a 14% walk rate. But teenagers don’t luck into both simultaneously. That takes a discerning eye, a strong approach, and a swing that works.

There’s still plenty of work to be done this season, let alone in the years to come, but Colt Keith is showing precocious hitting ability. Add to that plus arm strength, impressive raw power, and some defensive versatility, and the Detroit Tigers might be looking at another top-100 prospect in the future.

For now we’ll just let the young man continue to perform. But, if you’re feeling frisky, we encourage you to look at this list of teenagers in full-season ball with a wRC+ above 120 and a walk rate of 12% or more (be sure to click on the “split seasons” box). We think you’ll see a few familiar names.

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