Around the Tigers’ farm: Colt Keith has look of ‘absolute … steal’ from 2020 MLB Draft

Detroit News

James Chipman, director of scouting for Prospects Live, based in Winter Garden, Florida, was asked for thoughts on Colt Keith, the Tigers’ fifth-round pick a year ago from Biloxi, Mississippi.

Keith has been handling life niftily at Single-A Lakeland, which is a sturdy assignment for a left-handed hitter, a year out of high school, who turned 20 on Saturday.

Keith is batting .323 in 38 games, with a mighty .439 on-base percentage (25 walks), and .856 OPS. The Tigers have been playing him at third base and second base.

His only slowdown this season: a short bout with COVID late in July that necessitated some rehab games in the Florida Complex League.

Chipman’s scouting notes:

“Colt Keith continues to impress me — he’s absolutely thriving under pro instruction. The hit tool is further along than I anticipated. He has an advanced approach. He’s patient, not passive, with good bat-to-ball skills and a compact swing that’s quick to and through the ball.

“Keith utilizes the entire field and has shown the ability to grind out at-bats and work deep counts. Keith has the ingredients of a potential above-average hitter, and I might be selling him short there.

“Currently, there’s modest average raw-power that plays down a full grade in-game. His attack angle, bat-to-ball skills, and above-average bat speed suggest power gains are likely as he continues to physically mature.

“Keith already is an impressive, 6-foot-3, 211 pounds, and he should continue to fill out nicely as he (just turned 20). Those additional strength gains should help the power develop into a solid-average tool.

“The over-the-fence pop will improve, but I see Keith as more of an extra-base machine than a home-run threat.

“Keith has looked solid-average at third base. Quick reactions and decent footwork help aid average range. Keith’s plus arm strength plays above-average currently, due to occasional accuracy issues. He’s seen some action at second base, but that’s likely due to Nick Quintana and a crowded infield.

“The versatility will help the profile, but Keith will be more than adequate at third or wherever he’s parked on the infield dirt moving forward.

“There’s evident high baseball IQ and confidence moxie in Keith’s game. Selected in the fifth round a year ago, the profile has the early makings of an absolute Draft Day steal showing early promise of a potential average-everyday regular.”

More: Henning: July’s MLB Draft needs a June return — as those new Tigers pitchers confirm

Wentz getting there, slowly

Last week was what Tommy John rehabbers classify as progress.

Joey Wentz started Thursday for Double-A Erie against Altoona and steered his way through 4.2 innings. He was nicked for four hits, one of them a double, and an earned run.  He walked two and struck out four, all while tossing an ample 82 pitches.

Wentz throws left-handed. He is 23 years old, 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, and in 2016 was technically a first-round draft pick (40th overall) by Atlanta. The Tigers got him two years ago in their trade that sent Shane Greene to the Braves.

Until he went down in spring, 2020, with Tommy John reconstruction, he was, as they say, shoving it. His five 2019 starts at Erie: 2.10 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, based on 25.2 innings in which he rationed 20 hits, with these stunning secondary numbers: 37 strikeouts, four walks.

Wentz was on his way.

He still is, of course, 17 months after surgery, and by next season is projected to be somewhere in the vicinity of where he was two Augusts ago at Erie.

“He gets better every time out,” said Arnie Beyeler, who manages Erie. “Last night (Thursday) he got into some trouble, but he was throwing strikes. It seems like with every start, the quality of his strikes is getting better and better, and he’s getting deeper and deeper.”

As always, the word “command” — throwing a variety of pitches at the places they’re targeted, and with bite — isn’t for Wentz close to being where he was late in 2019.

He has made nine starts for the SeaWolves spanning 34.2 innings. The details: 30 hits, 38 strikeouts, and a whopping 26 walks, which tells you where a Tommy John patient is on his recovery timeline.

By next spring, the Tigers expect Wentz will be cozying up to that stuff he was tossing in 2019 — and to eventual steady work in Detroit.

Short hops

► Those wondering whatever happened to Paul Richan, an upper-tier Tigers right-handed pitching prospect who came to the Tigers from the Cubs in 2019 as part of the Nick Castellanos trade:

Richan made eight starts at Erie this season (3.72 ERA, 1.17 WHIP) but hasn’t pitched since June 22 because of shoulder issues. He’s rehabbing, now throwing from 120 feet. Figure on a 2022 return

► Another pitcher who hasn’t been heard from in a while: Gio Arriera, a fourth-round pick in 2017 from Palm Beach State College. Arriera’s last start was June 24 for Single-A Lakeland and he isn’t close to returning from right-shoulder issues. He is rehabbing at home in Miami after a rugged first two months and nine starts: 5.30 ERA and 1.42 WHIP.

Eliezer Alfonzo, who came into the year as one of the Tigers’ better catching prospects, found just the fix-it for his early problems: a demotion.

Alfonzo, who is 21 and a switch-hitter, began the year at West Michigan but didn’t exactly swing the bat with zest: .226 batting average and a .529 OPS.

But a retooling at Single-A Lakeland, with its corresponding friendlier pitching, has been worth it: .309 in 34 games, with a .367 on-base percentage, and .896 OPS, complete with seven home runs.

Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and former Detroit News sports reporter.

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