No. 2 prospect Keith keeps slugging after brief absence

Detroit Tigers

Just when Colt Keith’s disappearance from the lineup at Double-A Erie put a scare into Tigers fans earlier this week, Detroit’s No. 2 prospect and baseball’s No. 82 prospect returned Thursday and picked up where he left off, homering in back-to-back games at Harrisburg as part of a four-game streak. No sooner did the first ball leave the park did speculation resume for Keith’s promotion — if not to Detroit to help an inconsistent Tigers offense, then at least to Triple-A Toledo.

For now, at least, the Tigers are putting the brakes on the speculation, certainly on the jump to the Majors.

“I know there’s an urge to always look into the Minor League system and tap into the first guy that you see who is doing well, and that’s a slippery slope, as we’ve seen,” manager A.J. Hinch told 97.1 The Ticket on Wednesday. “I take everybody back to last year with [Spencer Torkelson] and [Riley] Greene. We were all excited to get them up here, and it just wasn’t a smooth ride for them.

“You’ve got to be careful answering your problems in the big leagues immediately with the hottest topic in the Minor Leagues until their development is there. So we’re being disciplined with those guys. I love what Colt Keith is doing in Double-A.”

The Tigers have been quiet about Keith’s absence. He was not listed on their Minor League medical report Wednesday, the day before he returned to the lineup, but he has played every game at DH since his return Thursday. He showed no obvious signs of injury the game before his absence, though he made a diving attempt at a double down the left-field line. Keith missed much of last season rehabbing a shoulder injury, so there’s obvious reason to be cautious with any health concern.

As long as he’s healthy, the next guidepost on Keith’s timetable will come at the end of next week, when the Eastern League’s first half concludes. The league uses a split-season format, so division leaders at the halfway mark earn postseason spots, and the standings reset for the second half. The Tigers value prospects getting postseason experience, evidenced when they kept much of Erie’s roster intact for a playoff run last fall. They also value the work Keith is putting in on his defense at third and second base, which remains a point of emphasis.

The Tigers also value development at Triple-A, something president of baseball operations Scott Harris referenced when the season began.

“We owe it to both the organization and the players to finish off their developments before they get to Detroit,” Harris said at the time. “There are a lot of players that get to Triple-A and could compete up here but ultimately aren’t going to reach their potential without meaningful reps in Toledo.”

Hinch agrees, noting that the way hitters are pitched by experienced pitchers at Triple-A with Major League experience is different from facing hot pitching prospects.

“I don’t know what the overall plan is exactly; that’s obviously Scott and [vice president of player development Ryan Garko]. We talk about it all the time,” Hinch said. “But I think Colt has done a good job of trying to learn a couple different positions, both infield positions. He’s continued to hit, which is good. If a new challenge is ahead of him, I’m not making the decision, but I would assume it would be the next level more than it would be a quantum leap.”

Here’s who else we’re watching in the system this week:

Triple-A Toledo: No. 10 prospect Parker Meadows hit a pair of home runs and a double as part of a 9-for-24 series at Lehigh Valley entering Sunday.

Double-A Erie: First baseman Chris Meyers, a 13th-round pick out of Toledo two years ago, jumped from West Michigan and hit 6-for-13 in his first four games with a double and three RBIs.

High-A West Michigan: Top prospect Jace Jung homered on back-to-back days at Lake County. He entered Sunday with five homers this month and 11 for the season.

Single-A Lakeland: First baseman Moises Valero went 6-for-11 with four RBIs in three games against Dunedin.

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