LAKELAND, Fla. — You look at Colt Keith on a backfield at TigerTown and you think: “Dang, that kid just keeps growing. He is freakin’ huge.”
The 20-year-old Detroit Tigers prospect went through a growth spurt in the offseason, adding an inch of heighth and 30 pounds of muscle. Now, he’s up to 6 feet 3½ and 235 pounds.
Translation: The dude is jacked.
“I think a lot of it was just the last growth spurt and really growing into my man strength,” he said.
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Keith is the Tigers’ No. 12 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. There was a time — OK, just a year ago — when he was alternating between second and third base, but those days look like they are over.
“Second base might be out of the picture,” he said.
Because he is too big for second now.
He has grown so big and strong that he has switched to a bigger bat, which he thinks will give him more power at the plate. Last year, Keith used a 33-inch, 30-ounce bat. Now, his bat is half an inch longer and an ounce heavier, which might sound insignificant.
But it’s not.
“The difference in the bat is huge,” he said. “I can swing with less intensity and still be able to put the ball in play at 100-plus miles per hour.”
It was a challenge for him to reach a 100-mph exit velocity last year with the smaller, lighter bat. “It was tough,” he said. “I would really have to get a hold of it.”
But now, with his added strength and bigger bat, it’s no problem. “I can miss a ball and still hit it really well,” he said. “If I can put a shorter swing on it, the ball will pop off the bat harder and faster. The exit velocity is up, the loft is up and the home runs are up.”
And yes, that means everything is looking up for this fifth-round pick in the 2020 draft.
During a minicamp practice on Thursday, he hit a ball with a 105-mph exit velocity.
“Not bad,” he said. “I can get it up there. But you know, I’m just trying to stay consistent. Stay around 100.”
Hard times in Class A
Consistency — and the lack of it — was his story in 2021.
He started out playing rookie ball in Lakeland.
“I never had a bad time there,” he said.
When he moved up to Low-A Lakeland, he was warned that he would struggle.
“(Lakeland manager Andrew) Graham really walked me through it,” Keith said. “He knew exactly what was gonna happen, which was amazing. He said, ‘Hey, you’re going to struggle, and you’re going to get better, and you’re gonna get through it, and we’re gonna get through this together. And that’s what happened.”
Keith struggled through a .225 stretch in June with 11 strikeouts in 40 at bats.
“I thought I was done, and it was never going to get better,” Keith said. “It was ‘Struggle City.’ ”
He questioned himself, and it started to mess with his head: “Then, sure enough, slowly I got better just like the coaches said.”
He got hot in July, hitting .356 for the month. “I was raking,” he said. “Oh, it was awesome. And Graham was the first guy to be excited for me, and my teammates were excited for me. I was excited but I tried to keep a level head.”
By the end of August, he was called up to High-A West Michigan.
Right on cue, everybody told him the same thing: You are gonna struggle. The spin rates will increase. The velocity will go up. The changeups will be harder to hit.
Sure enough, he struggled in West Michigan, although it was a small sample size. He played just 18 games, hitting .162 with 27 strikeouts in 68 at-bats.
“I’ve got 1,000 excuses for it, but the bottom line is, I didn’t get it done,” he said.
“And that’s what they warned me would happen. You know, next year, I hope to build on that and get better.”
He doesn’t sound freaked out.
Because he has already gone through it.
Thanks to the ups and downs, he believes he is a better player.
“I was humbled,” he said. “Now, I know that it can go down real fast, or it can go up real fast. And like I said, again, you got to keep a level head. No matter if I’m 10-for-10 or 0-for-10, I got to try to keep the same approach.”
Keeping his speed
“Where did you put on most of the weight?” I asked him.
“It’s hard for me to tell,” he said. “People tell me my shoulders have gotten a lot wider, a lot thicker. And I know that my legs got a lot bigger. I had kind of skinny legs out of high school, and they really built this offseason.”
He had 10% body fat before the growth spurt, which hasn’t changed after adding the weight.
But he does not feel he has lost much speed. He ran a 6.5-second 60-yard dash at a prep tournament before the draft. During the most recent offseason, he ran it in 6.61 seconds.
“There’s a little bit of a slowdown but 6.6 is very quick,” he said.
But more than that, something else has changed.
“I’ve matured a lot,” he said.
The last year has aged him. Given him new perspective. He was humbled and grew from it.
And he’s stronger — way stronger— both on the inside and out.
Contact Jeff Seidel: email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.