Prospect Spotlight: Colt Keith, 3B, Detroit Tigers
Despite being relatively unheralded entering last season, one of the hottest first-half prospect names in 2022 was Colt Keith. An injury cut short his full-fledged breakout, creating the opportunity for savvy dynasty owners to add him to their MiLB rosters before he explodes in 2023.
Early Professional Tastes
Colt Keith was drafted in the fifth (and final) round in the 2020 draft. The Detroit Tigers selected him out of high school as a two-way player. After quickly signing Keith they immediately focused on developing him as a position player. Pre-draft, he was known for his big frame and power plus his 70-grade name. Keith showed early that his line-drive stroke allows the bat to stay in the zone and additionally provides great contact skills. In his first professional season, he maintained a solid K-rate of 24%. It’s especially impressive for his initial go-round in pro ball. As a 19-year-old that year, Keith also showed an excellent eye by walking 15.1% of his total plate appearances. Consistently flashing these skills early is important in moving up the developmental ladder. I’d argue they are more important than showing power early. That same year Keith only hit two homers total and an unimpressive .107 ISO. The Tigers brass must agree with me as they promoted Keith to High-A for an unproductive month at the end of 2021.
The Pop Off
At this point, it’s easy to see why Keith was considered a fringe prospect entering 2022. But last season was the end of that adjective for describing Keith. Nine home runs in 48 games will help move you up prospect lists real quick. His rise wasn’t just from the power starting to show, as Keith’s other qualities persisted and improved as well. As a 20-year-old facing competition more than 2 years older on average, he put together a .301/.370/.544 line until his shoulder injury in early June. He also stole four bags in the first two months plus three triples. While he is known for his muscular frame, he’s also athletic, quick, and not a slouch on the basepaths. After recovering from the injury, Keith slammed 3 more home runs and stole 3 bases in his 19 games in the Arizona Fall League.
The improved power numbers aren’t results from a different approach at the plate either. Keith’s 19% K-rate in 2022 was great and borderline excellent. His Pull% and Oppo% batted balls are relatively consistent when comparing ‘21 to ‘22. Though his increased usage of the center of the park shows that he may be trying to not spray the ball as much. HardHit rate estimates do show that he minimized soft contact while barrelling the ball well last year. Those changes have a wonderful additive effect in hitting the ball over the fence consistently. Even with the injury, I have minimal reason to think his 200+ plate appearances last year were too small of a sample.
Entering 2023 and beyond, it’s reasonable to expect Keith to make it to the show perhaps as early as this September. I wouldn’t necessarily count on that as he’s not Rule 5 eligible until after the 2024 season. I imagine the Tigers will exercise patience and allow him to develop with another full year in the minors. There is no set positional player in his path, so it’s possible he’ll get a chance to make the ‘24 Opening Day roster if all goes well in ‘23. Once he’s up, and given that the Tigers apparently are making park adjustments, Keith has the skill set for 25+/10 HR/SB with .350+ OBP as his 90% outcomes. With the swing and approach floors, 20/5 with .325 I’d say for a 50% outcome. Yeah, I’m pretty high on Colt Keith. I put him as my eighth-ranked third base prospect, handicapping the relatively short performance history. He’s only 12th on the composite TDG prospect list, and lower still on other industry ranks. After the season starts, those both will quickly look like under ranks similar to last year. I don’t care how you hoodwink your league-mates, just get him on your roster while you can.