Getting cute in the major league draft isn’t easy. Despite the endless scheming of major league draft obsessives, saving bonus pool money in the early rounds with which to lure a good but not great prep prospect later on, just isn’t an easy trick to turn. Witness the Detroit Tigers draft in 2017, in which they took JUCO slugger Reynaldo Rivera underslot in round two in order to save the money with which to lure prep catcher Sam McMillan in the fourth round. McMillan could ultimately still make it as a backup catcher, but otherwise the scheming turned rounds two through four into a general debacle.
In 2020, with only five rounds, six picks, and the second largest bonus pool, the Tigers handled things much more effectively. Observers were generally impressed with their work from roundss one one through four, and yet they managed to find the bonus pool space to land Mississippi two-way prep star, Colten Keith in round five. That may prove one of the better maneuvers the Avila front office has pulled off.
Keith was on the radar throughout his teenage baseball career in Mississippi. The Biloxi H.S. product was the Magnolia State’s Gatorade Player of the Year for the 2018-2019 season after hitting .527 with eight home runs as a junior and posting good performances on the showcase circuit as well. He was committed to play for Arizona State if no team met his figure in the draft. Ultimately, if this draft class turns out well, it will be remembered as the great Sun Devils raid of 2020 after the Tigers also drafted Arizona State products Spencer Torkelson and Gage Workman. Ultimately, Keith’s asking price wasn’t exorbitant. The Tigers signed him for a $500K bonus, just $75K over the fifth round slot value.
While he played solid shortstop in high school, Keith projects as a third baseman or potentially a right-fielder in pro ball. His combination of size, athleticism, and arm strength should make him a quality third baseman though he’s still described as pretty raw defensively. Keith pitched in high school and was comfortably in the low-90’s on the mound, so the arm is more than enough to handle any position, even catcher. However, the Tigers are committed to moving him to third base full-time and have no apparent plans to continue developing him as a pitcher.
Standing six-foot, three inches tall and a solidly built 195 pounds, Keith has good power potential compared to his peers. He should add strength to that frame as he develops. A left-handed hitter, he made tons of hard contact in high school with a sound, simple swing, and has a pretty good understanding of the strike zone. He’s also an average runner despite his size. All in all, he’s not a polished product in many ways, but beyond his youth, the tools, hard-nosed mentality, and work ethic argue well for further development.
As mentioned, a lot of his skills are still under construction, particularly his approach. That’s understandable, as he mashed his way through prep pitching with consistent authority. But there will be plenty of work required there, as well as with his defensive fundamentals at third base as he develops in pro ball. The Tigers should have little trouble with the latter, but a long track record of futility in trying to develop young hitters limits our confidence in their ability to get the most out of Keith until we see it unfolding. Still, there is a lot of upside available here in a player who is just 19 years old. With a new player development chief in Kenny Graham entering his second season, and a new hitting coordinator in Joel McKeithan in place for 2021, we’re hoping to see dividends in that department.
Projected 2021 team: Gulf Coast Tigers
Pre-COVID, Keith’s progression would probably have involved a start at the rookie ball level in the Gulf Coast League, followed by a move to short season A-ball in Connecticut to get used to the travel and lifestyle. With that level now gone, we’ll see how aggressive the Tigers are with him this season. The next step out of the GCL now is simply walking over to play on the other side of the complex at Publix Field with the Lakeland Flying Tigers. If things go well this spring, Keith should be ready for the jump during the summer months.