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Interview: 3B Colt Keith is optimistic about Detroit’s prospect pipeline

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We sat down with the former fifth round pick this offseason and talked about baseball and the future of the Detroit Tigers.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Terri Nummer/Special to Detroit Free Press via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Just over a year ago, the Detroit Tigers put together one of the most well-regarded drafts in the whole of Major League Baseball. Their 2020 class consisted of six players, and the final to be selected was 3B/RHP Colt Keith. Now a dedicated third baseman, he’s playing his first full season of professional ball with the organization as a member of the Lakeland Flying Tigers.

Last November, I was granted the opportunity to talk to Keith. Originally, the interview was envisioned as the basis for a full-length feature to be run in March with our regularly scheduled preseason prospect content.

Unfortunately, I broke three of my fingers in February and was unable to write the story in the original timeframe. Therefore, I decided to table it and publish the unabridged transcript of the interview when draft season rolled around and interest in Tigers prospects was renewed. Now that I’m finally able to share it with you, some of the information surrounding the Instructional League feels a little dated. Nonetheless, it’s still fascinating to take a look at the Tigers’ top prospects from the perspective of one of their peers. There’s also plenty of good info about Keith himself.

Jay Markle: What should Tigers fans know about how you play baseball and what’s your best attribute on the field?

Colt Keith: Y’know, I play at 100% all the time. Every time I step on the field, I never take it for granted, I play with all my effort in each game. I’ve always done that and I always will. My greatest attribute on the field is definitely on the hitting side; I think I’m going to be able to produce at a high level as a hitter.

What did you know about Detroit sports before being drafted? Was there any sort of foundation there, or was it a new experience entirely?

It’s a pretty new experience. I’m from Ohio, which is pretty close. I knew — I know up in Michigan, they’re big hockey fans, but other than that, it’s all pretty new.

When we found out that the Tigers were going to be drafting you, as it turned out, in the fifth round, the feeling around Tigers fandom — we were ecstatic. What was draft day like for you? How did you find out you were drafted by the Tigers?

It was actually a really roller coaster day so I went into the fourth/fifth round thinking I was gonna go to Arizona State. Um, stopped getting calls. It was more of a thing that teams didn’t think I was gonna take that kind of money down there. I was just sitting outside, I wasn’t even in the room anymore, and the Tigers called my agent and made an offer. It was the number I wanted, so I accepted and it was just overwhelming joy because I thought I was gonna have to go to college, which I really didn’t want to do. So it was definitely a great day for me, but it was up and down, up and down.

What was your experience at the Instructional League like and how did it differ from what you’ve experienced before?

Man, it was awesome. I’m used to playing every few days in high school here and there, but when you’re down in Instructional League like we were in Florida, every day you get to go out, you get to play baseball. It’s your job — they even pay you for it! Y’know, I’m around dudes that are doing the same thing as me, have the same goals as me. It was just an awesome experience, I made a lot of relationships with the guys around me and with the coaches, of course. It was just a great experience and I got my feet wet in pro ball and that’s what I needed.

Was there anyone who you connected with in particular?

Yeah, uh, Kingston Liniak, Bryant Packard, there was a bunch of guys. Even Torkelson, Riley, I talked to them day in and day out. They were right beside me in the locker room, every day at practice there were guys in my groups. Y’know, made friends with a lot of Latin guys. Made friends with pretty much all of ‘em.

What I wanted to do was throw out some questions about your Instructional League teammates, the sort of superlatives-type questions. Who was the best player there at camp that you got to play with?

I think, in my opinion, I think Riley Greene’s the best player there right now.

Why Riley?

He plays 100% all the time. He’s constantly performing. Even though we’re in Instructional League and it seems like it’s not a big deal, he’s getting upset over at-bats and he’s really focused on his at-bats. He’s not just messing around. He’s focused on what he’s doing, He’s here to get better. And just as a game player, the dude went off. He hit more barrels than anyone else there by far. Hit a few bombs, and the ball just comes off his bat differently.

Who would you say is the best in the locker room?

I’d say Gage Workman. He’s a great guy. No matter what’s going on, he’s always bringing a positive vibe around everybody, bringing everybody together, always in a great mood. Overall, he’s just a great guy.

And among the guys you got to play with, who’s the most surprising?

Well, there’s a lot of guys because I’m more thinking about the pitchers in this question. Jason Foley, he’s an insane pitcher. I think it was super surprising to go into the instructional league and see all these pitchers, the amount of stuff they have. It’s a big jump from high school, I wasn’t really expecting it. There’s not really any guys who surprised me, I know everyone’s a great player, so it didn’t really surprise me. Maybe even Riley Greene, you know, he really showed out more than I thought he would and he’s a lot better than I thought he was.

Yeah, you’re there to play, you go in expecting that. Which one of the pitchers was toughest to face? Was it Foley, or someone else?

Oh yeah, by far Foley. By far, Foley.

What was it about Foley that made him a tough matchup?

His ball movement is insane. Not only does he throw 98, you know, it moves, it seems about a foot and a half in the box. He’s also got the toughest offspeed, the sinker, the splitter, the changeup, the slider. I mean, you got it all. It all moves a crazy amount. It’s very difficult to hit.

Was there a single pitch from another pitcher that stood out to you as being the best individual pitch?

Will Vest, the pitcher, his fastball was different. It comes out of his hand different, it gets on you quick and before you know it, it’s right by ya. His fastball was definitely different than everybody else’s.

I’m glad you said that, because a lot of people on the national scale are discovering Will Vest. (Note: Vest would later be selected in the Rule 5 draft by Seattle.)

Reflecting on your own gameplay, what do you think will be the key to your own development moving forward?

I think the key to my development is going to be me developing on defense. I think that’s where I lacked against other guys that were there. That’s what I’m going to do this offseason, I’m gonna work on defense and try to get to that level where I need to be. A close second would be getting used to professional pitching. It’s still a big adjustment for me. At the end there, I got a little bit better. It’s still a big adjustment, getting used to that velocity with those offspeed pitches, that’s definitely going to be a big adjustment too.

And how do you go about making those adjustments? Do you rely on new-age thinking, are you more of a “feel” player, what’s your approach?

On the defense side, taking as many ground balls as I can, doing as many infield drills as I can. I just ordered a paddle glove. It’s just a flat glove and it’s really gonna work on me being smooth. Work on my arm action. Just, you know, just getting constant work in at third base and second base. Getting used to the pitching side, it’s just, I’m going to have to challenge myself every day that I go hit.

One thing I’ve noticed is that if the guy is throwing BP, everyone can hit great BP. Everyone can. It’s just laying in fastballs for you. It’s easy. The key is to challenge yourself every day. For example, get a machine that throws pretty hard, scoot it up as close as you can, and try to put the ball in play consistently. That’s gonna make you a better hitter. It’s gonna make your body adjust to that kind of pitching and it’s gonna make it look like 98 so you can get used to actual pitchers coming out and throwing 98.

What sort of role do you envision yourself playing in the major leagues when the Tigers are hopefully competitive again?

I think I’m going to be able to play as a middle-of-the-order guy that hits for average and power. And hopefully, from the way I see it, I’m gonna be a great fielder that can stick at a spot and be a role player on that team.

When it comes to getting better in the field and hitting against velocity, which are the things you’ve mentioned, do you think that switching from being a two-way player to strictly a position player has an impact?

I honestly don’t think so because, I mean, to be frank, when I was pitching, there wasn’t much focus on me pitching and my mechanics and stuff. For me, it was just a thing where I got up there and threw it as hard as I could. I had enough natural talent to get by as a pitcher. So it wasn’t like I was taking away time from my hitting or defense side. I think I knew and the people around me knew that my future in pro ball would be as a hitter.

That’s everything I wanted to talk to you about. Is there anything else I should include?

Yeah, man, just to all the Tigers fans and people in Detroit, Michigan — right now I know it looks bad in the big leagues. But these guys I played with in the Instructional League are insanely good players and there’s a lot of ‘em. Detroit in the big leagues has a briiiight future. Real soon, too.

Thank you again to the Tigers and Colt Keith himself for making this interview possible. Follow him on Twitter at @coltkeith3.