Detroit Tigers observations: Colt Keith won’t make Opening Day squad but looks comfortable

Detroit Free Press

LAKELAND, Fla. — On Friday morning, Detroit Tigers president of baseball operations Scott Harris and manager A.J. Hinch held their player meeting with 21-year-old third baseman Colt Keith, the youngest player in their camp.

“He can really hit,” Hinch said. “We emphasized (in the meeting) that his approach currently works, so now it’s experience and facing better pitchers as he goes across the minor leagues.”

At the end of Friday’s workout, Keith dug his cleats into the batter’s box and faced right-handeders Matt Manning and Alex Lange, a pair of established big leaguers, for live batting practice at the TigerTown backfields. It turned out to be the coolest experience of his first five days in camp.

“We told him he’s not going to make the team,” Hinch said, “but he’s going to get some at-bats when we can hopefully get him in.”

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Keith, a left-handed hitter who hasn’t played above High-A West Michigan, received two at-bats against Manning and one at-bat against Lange. Facing Manning, he crushed a home run to right-center off his curveball and hit a line-drive single to right off his slider.

He grounded out to second against Lange.

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With Manning on the mound, Keith prepared for a “good fastball” and a “really good 12-6 curve that he likes to throw to lefties.” He seemed to know the basic scouting report and planned to keep his hands close to his body during his swing.

“I sat fastball,” Keith said. “I saw the curveball pop and adjusted and hit it hard in the air, and it ended up going out. The last (at-bat), he threw a slider down. It was a really good pitch. I thought it was a fastball until the last second. I wanted to hit it up the middle, but I ended up being a little early.

“I just got the bat head down there. I’m not sure how I got under that. That should have been a ground ball to the second baseman. It was a good pitch. But I ended up getting the bat there and hit a barrel.”

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Between those at-bats, Lange forced him to hit the ball on the ground with his changeup.

“He’s got the nastiest stuff I’ve ever seen,” Keith said. “He threw a changeup that started in. I saw it, and I was going to hammer it, and then I got too happy and pulled off and rolled it over to second base. If I would have stayed on it and hit it to left-center, I would have been fine, but I got happy. That’s how that guy pitches you. He’s got late-breaking stuff.”

Keith is arguably the best prospect in Tigers camp, and he seems like the most confident among the group. In 2022, he hit .301 with nine home runs, 22 walks and 42 strikeouts in 48 games for High-A West Michigan before a shoulder injury ended his regular season.

He returned for the Arizona Fall League.

In 19 games, he hit .344 with three homers, 16 walks and 16 strikeouts for the Salt River Rafters.

“The reason he’s here is because he has earned it,” Hinch said. “He’s performed and continued to perform. The work that he’s put in, the minor-league development staff has paid close attention. And then he went and crushed the Fall League. His next challenge is higher levels of the minors and some major-league exposure.”

Keith posted a 12.8% walk rate (77th percentile), 19.6% strikeout rate (75th percentile) and 15% chase rate (97th percentile) in West Michigan and the Fall League (percentile rankings compared to minor leaguers, including Fall Leaguers, with at least 250 plate appearances).

He had some takeaways from his meeting with Harris and Hinch.

“They like me a lot, and they’re really confident in my bat,” Keith said. “I just need to work on fielding. Everyone pretty much knows that. Other than that, I have to keep doing what I’m doing. I’m the young guy in camp, and I’m on the right track.”

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This offseason, Keith worked on his defense.

His arm strength and accuracy aren’t concerning, but his fielding has been an issue. Since coming to camp, he has played third base and spent time training with Hall of Fame shortstop Alan Trammell. The Tigers plan to give him reps at second base in the minor leagues, too.

“Getting all that work in, it’s finally feeling good,” Keith said. “And then getting here and getting ground balls every day, it’s starting to feel good. I’m a really confident guy, and it’s starting to pay off on the field. I’m starting to feel it.”

‘Strike one for me is big’

Right-handed reliever Trey Wingenter threw a 20-pitch live batting practice.

His final three pitches — fastball, slider, fastball — were his best pitches of the session. “I was definitely trying to empty the tank,” he said, “especially in a controlled setting like that.”

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The 28-year-old hasn’t pitched in MLB since 2019 due to several injuries, including Tommy John surgery. If he can stay healthy, his two-pitch mix has the potential to be dynamic out of the bullpen.

A few days ago, Hinch mentioned Wingenter has struck out 44.2% of batters after getting ahead 0-1 in his career. Simply put, he needs to throw strikes to make the Tigers’ roster.

“Strike one for me is big,” Wingenter said. “In a live BP, you don’t really know the count or what’s going on, but in the game, you get immediate feedback. In the first game, I’m looking forward to that.”

Golf outing results

In Thursday’s golf outing, the six-man team of Zack Short, Brendon Davis and four course members competed against others from the Tigers in a scramble at The Grasslands in Lakeland.

They played 18 holes and shot 49.

“Shorty was the best,” Hinch said. “Brendon Davis rode his coattails. We had a good time. It was a long day, but a fun day.”

Short is the best golfer in the organization.

He stayed humble when asked about his performance.

“It was a team event,” he said. “It was fun, though, it was good.”

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Injury update

The Tigers added one new player in their latest medical update, joining Casey Mize (right elbow sprain, lumbar strain), Tarik Skubal (left elbow strain) and Wenceel Perez (low back inflammation).

Right-handed reliever José Cisnero received treatments during the week for a muscle spasm in his neck region.

He will resume throwing when he is symptom-free.

Right-hander Reese Olson, a pitching prospect, has elbow discomfort. He is scheduled to throw a live batting practice on Wednesday.

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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