PEORIA, Ariz. — On a day of resounding shots off the bat from Salt River, Colt Keith’s mammoth 459-foot homer stood out above the rest. The sixth-ranked Tigers prospect collected his first AFL roundtripper amidst a 15-run deluge of offense which saw the Rafters knock off the Javelinas at Peoria Sports Complex.
“Definitely the best swing I’ve gotten off in the Fall League,” Keith said. “I’m going to be honest: I faced a bunch of lefties today and then they put in a righty, so I was like, ‘All right, I finally got a righty. I’m going to try to hit a homer to the Pepsi sign [in right field].’ I hit it a little bit more center but I just tried to get the [bat] head out.”
Keith enjoyed another multihit performance in victory for the Rafters, raising his AFL average to .364 through 14 games. Entering play Saturday night, that ranked him fourth in the league, while his 13 walks have him tied for third.
That patience at the dish comes on the heels of a 2022 campaign that required plenty of it. A right shoulder injury ended Keith’s year at High-A West Michigan in June, although he opted to not undergo surgery. Prior to going down, he slashed .301/.370/.544 in 48 games with the Whitecaps, showing flashes of the player he envisions for himself in the future.
The Tigers like Keith’s efficient and quick swing from the left-handed side, an aspect of his game that the 21-year-old is still working to hone. While he has enjoyed considerable success against AFL pitching, he has been a perpetual work in progress as he gets back into a rhythm in the box after nearly four months out of game action.
“Staying short and staying aggressive, getting into hitter’s counts and not chasing,” Keith said of his focus. “Being a well-rounded hitter and using the whole field.
“I’m happy with how I’ve done so far.”
Keith is looking to put a cherry on top of a year that, prior to injury, looked as if it could be a breakout campaign. He amassed a .404 wOBA with West Michigan in 2022. That “hit to all fields” approach played true, as he recorded at least 30 percent of his balls in play to the opposite field, center and his pull side across his 216 regular-season plate appearances — only seven of which came against younger pitchers.
During Fall League Media Day last month, Keith preached a desire to absorb as much as he could from the experience of playing in Arizona, both from his teammates and his coaches.
Salt River boasts some significant thump in the middle of their order, namely in the form of top-ranked Cardinals prospect Jordan Walker, who mashed a 436-foot homer in the at-bat prior to Keith’s. The group bounces respective approaches and how to attack certain pitchers off one another.
Ultimately, the goal remains to utilize the Fall League as a springboard. Even with just 113 pro games under his belt since Detroit nabbed him in the fifth round of the 2020 Draft, Keith has his sights set on the biggest stage.
“Just honestly how to act like a big leaguer,” Keith said of what he’s learned most from the past four weeks. “Our manager [Warren] Schaeffer and everyone else — all the players on the other side of the field too — really show how to act and how to play and how to carry yourself on the field.”
Salt River’s offense was clicking on all cylinders from the second inning on, as four batters collected a trio of RBIs (including Walker and second-ranked Cardinals prospect Masyn Winn) and all starters collected at least one knock. The unit went 10-for-15 with runners in scoring position and finished with a season high in runs scored.