Around the Tigers' farm: Colt Keith raises questions about a Tigers arrival in 2023 (2023)

Lyn Henning| Specially for The Detroit News

It's an irresistible game for those who study tiger farm:

When will Colt Keith be called up for the Tigers?

Everyone knows it's coming, maybe this season, when in fact it's not a likelihood.

Here's what happens when a 21-year-old left-handed pounder hits .321 in 40 games, has a good baseline average (.394), and hits nine homers as part of his .903 OPS.

Isn't it about time this boy got a promotion? If not to Comerica Park, where good clubs are appreciated, but at least to Triple-A Toledo?

A ticket to either of those two stops -- likely Toledo -- is on the cards, though the Tigers have given no indication of when Keith might bid farewell to Double-A Erie.

A plausible guess:

Keith moves to Toledo mid-season.

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Assuming all goes well there, which Keith always invites no matter where he plays, he'd be an hour's drive from Detroit.

One question could slow Tigers manager AJ Hinch's salivary glands:

Where is Keith playing?

He has been struggling with one error in recent days but is expected to return this week with the prognosis for second base showing stable work.

While the Tigers don't officially think third base is a problem, second base is an easier sell for Keith's glove, reach and arm. That's especially true as former second baseman Wenceel Perez moves to the outfield (see note below).

"I think right now there are a lot of infielders that we really like," said Ryan Garko, who oversees Tigers player development. "And if you look at the way we use players in Detroit, that's the way we want to build our major league club, so versatility is important."

“Colt has done very well as a second baseman (in previous Tigers farm stops). I think the more versatile we can make our players - you have the Zach McKinstry model, the Zack Short model - the more we have all these pieces that help us compete against an opponent.

Keith played on both sides of the infield in his first three years in the Tigers system, although his time at second base was limited (32 games compared to 115 at third base).

If he and the Tigers find that mass work at second base isn't compatible, other moves threaten -- either to the outfield, where the Tigers' roster life is being stretched, or to first base, which for now is Spencer Torkelson County. But those changes are underway if they are ever contemplated.

Add to the long-term picture the fact that last year's Tigers first-round pick Jace Jung is definitely a second baseman, and where exactly Keith will end up becomes more difficult.

What is known is that the old Jim Leyland adage about batsmen and positions probably applies: "When a man bats, they find a place to put him."

Time to try the outfield

The Tigers say nothing about it. Nope what.

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But there is a reasonWenzel Pereznow works in midfield at Erie.

His throwing problems at second base, reminiscent of historic problems that greats Steve Sax and Chuck Knoblauch had in decades past, resulted in Erie making nine errors earlier this season.

Perez's switch-hitting bat has been relatively strong for the SeaWolves (.265/.373/.745 OPS), but problems that surfaced a year ago have seemingly made second base a no-go for a 23-year-old . Final contender who had a good debut in the field last week.

"He was great," said Erie coach Gabe Alvarez, who won't admit throwing issues led to Perez's move. “He caught all the balls he should have caught, made good jumps on the balls. He seemed comfortable there.”

"He worked hard during the BP and took balls off the racquet."

Three Cruz failures in 2023

Let's talk about a trend reversal: 200 points in the OPS from 2022 to this season.

To make a bowDrie Cruz.

More impressively, Cruz, a switch hitter, is so enthusiastic that he occasionally works in another position: midfield, since he has long shown he can interact with the staple groups in the field (third base, shortstop, second base ) gets along. Base).

Cruz arrived for a game against Somerset at UPMC Park on Sunday with a .283 batting average, .380 on base, .520 slugging and .906 OPS, including seven home runs.

As a right-hander, he's stronger against left-handers (.350/.800/1.150), but still has a .390 base and an .800 OPS when flipping left.

Not that what's happening this season came as a complete shock. It just took a while -- quite a while -- for Cruz to feel up to the bat after the Tigers pinned him in the third round in 2020 (Rice University).

"Trei hits the ball hard, and he always has," Garko said. “I think he's swinging a little more this year; He's more aggressive in the zone. But at Trei, I've always loved his tools. He can play shortstop. He has a good eye. He hits the ball very hard.”

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What explains the sudden increase in 2023?

Garko reflects a belief shared by most development gurus: it can take a while for players to thrive, especially when caught up in the tangled web of COVID shutdowns like Cruz did when he was drafted in 2020.

Garko also believes that Cruz's momentum has changed just enough in 2023 to put a little more air under the ball - hence those nine home runs.

"Slapping is one of the hardest things," Garko said, again referring to baseball schedules. "It just happens with so many players at different speeds."

Nothing small about Petit

He is 1.90 meters tall, weighs at least 137 kilograms and as Alvarez puts itRJ Klein: "I think he's a clumsy hitter's hitter."

No joke. In addition to Petit looking like a locomotive coming at you, a right-handed assist throws at Erie much like he did against West Michigan before being bumped into Double A.

Petit has pitched in eight games for the Sea Wolves, a 1.25 WHIP and amassed just under 11 hits in 12 innings while notching nine strikeouts and catching four walks. His season stats, a combination of his five games in West Michigan: 2.12 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 17 innings, 13 hits, five walks, 17 punchouts.

Petit was a 2021 Tigers pick (Round 14, Charleston Southern) who wasn't known at the time for throwing as hard as his size would suggest.

"His stuff took a leap," Alvarez said. “Mid to high 90's (fastball), with a pretty good little cutter slider and good variety. The ball literally jumps out of his hand. Even boys aren't particularly comfortable with their racquets.

Short jump

▶ Perhaps the most misleading stats on the Tigers farm are those of the Toledo outfielderParker Meadows: .223 batting average before Sunday's game, with a .323 on-base percentage, a .383 batting average and a .705 OPS.

Perhaps the most misleading stats on the Tigers farm of Toledo outfielder Parker Meadows are: .223 batting average pre-Sunday's game, with a .323 baseline percentage, .383 batting average and .705 OPS.

Meadows, 23, a left-handed swinger who's been on some sort of big league call-up post since spring camp, had better shots than his numbers suggested, including five home runs.

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Note from the observant: not overwhelmed despite scoring 48 goals in 46 games. Can create a duel of 10 throws. He hits better than his batting average suggests.

Meadows is a sensational speed demon who believes he will focus more seriously on stealing bases - he has six this season - while his tutoring at Toledo continues.

Brant Hurter, left-handed reliever with Erie, 6-6 and 250: nine games, 1.99 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 40.2 innings, 32 hits, 12 walks, 46 strikeouts. Solid stuff from a Georgia Tech 2021 round seven player.

"All year round," Alvarez said. “Really consistent, good leadership, big step this year. Fastball from the late to mid 90's, with curveball, slider and good variety.

"And he hits everyone. Add to that the fact that he's a man who's not scared on the hill.

Dillon Dinglerwas hot. He hits a lot of home runs while also being Erie's starting catcher.

And now the strikeouts are back: 17 in eight games May 14-25.

The problem: Sliders away continues to wipe out the 2020 Tigers' second-round pick.

Dingler still had a high .902 OPS in 18 Double-A games as the SeaWolves prepared for Sunday's fight against Somerset. But until the back-and-forth swing is overcome, the bats will remain complicated for Detroit's hopes for the top starting catcher.

Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and retired Detroit News reporter.


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