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Tigers' youngest draft pick, Colt Keith, not lacking in talent or confidence

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — Ah, the certitude of youth — unsullied by doubt, undamaged by failure, undaunted by fear.

Colt Keith, an 18-year-old high school standout from Biloxi, Mississippi, whom the Tigers selected in the fifth round of the Major League Baseball draft last week, not only sees himself playing in the big leagues, but playing there soon.

The Tigers selected prep standout Colt Keith with the No. 132 overall pick in last week's MLB draft.

“I bring a lot to the table,” he said. “I can play any position and play it very well. I bring an array of tools to the table. I can hit, hit with power, run, field, throw. I can get up to 95 mph off the bump and run a 6.4, 6.5 (60 yards).

“I’m a gamer and, in my opinion, I think I’m going to thrive in that organization and make it to the top fairly quickly.”

Love it.

Keith had given a verbal commitment to play at Arizona State, but in his heart, Plan A was always to turn pro. Which is why he said last Thursday, the second and last day of the draft, was the most stressful day of his life.

“It was just a roller coaster of emotions,” he said. “Not knowing if I was going to end up with a pro team or go to campus at Arizona State. There were a few points of time when I thought I was going to end up at Arizona State. We weren’t getting enough calls and the offers weren’t good enough.

“It ended up being a really crazy night.”

So when the Tigers finally called his name with the 132nd pick, there was really only one question left to be answered, as far as Keith was concerned — how much?

“If the contract is agreeable, I will sign the contract,” he said. “During the draft (the Tigers) made an offer. We agreed to it. So, as long as the contract checks out, I will sign it.”

Instead of, “I’m just thankful for the opportunity,” Keith, just a couple of months shy of his 19th birthday, was telling teams, “Show me the money.”

Love it.

Keith, who also was being scouted as a pitcher, said there were about 20 teams that expressed interest in him before the draft. He said 15 talked about him being a two-way player, the Tigers and three others saw him as a position player, and only one saw him as a pitcher first.

That team would have had to pay more for his services.

“If a team said they were interested in me and wanted me just to pitch, that would have drove my number (signing price) up,” he said. “I would have asked for more because I don’t want to go to pro ball, with me having so much faith as a hitter, and not even be asked to try to hit. I like to hit.

“I like to be able to do what I like to do, and if I’m going to go out there as a pitcher, which I don’t even know much about — I am a very unpolished pitcher — I would drive my number up.”

You have to admire the cojones. 

The Tigers, though, weren’t interested in his pitching arm. They were in love with his frame — 6-foot-3, 210 pounds — his athleticism and, mostly, his smooth and powerful left-handed swing.

“He’s definitely a special player,” said Tigers’ area scout Mike Smith, who had been following Keith since his junior year. “We really liked him going into the draft and we were lucky to get him.”

Smith knew, too, that Keith’s goal was to sign professionally, which eliminated most of the signability risk.

“I stayed in contact with him throughout the whole shutdown and the main thing I was asking him was, are you going to play pro ball or go to college,” Smith said. “He told me he was ready to sign. Then on draft day I gave him another call and he said, ‘Yeah, I want to sign.’

“He said he would rather go play ball than go to school.”

General manager Al Avila and assistant general manager David Chadd also called and eventually an offer was made. The slot value for the first pick in the fifth round this year was $426,000. The Tigers probably offered above slot value. Though both Keith and the Tigers say they expect to get a deal done, nothing has been officially announced.

“He’s very mature,” Smith said. “He wants to be a big-leaguer. He thinks he is a big-leaguer and he’s going to work his tail off to get to that point. That’s another reason we really liked the kid. He’s going to do what he’s got to do. You’re not going to question his work ethic.”

Keith was  essentially a man among boys on the prep diamond. He was named Mississippi’s Gatorade Player of the Year his junior season, where he hit a mere .527 with a .659 on-base percentage, eight home runs and 49 RBIs. As a pitcher, he struck out 74 in 38 innings.

The competition got stiffer for him the following summer, but he impressed there, too, especially at elite-level showcases like Perfect Game and Prospect Development Pipeline.

“There were so many (eye-popping) moments,” Smith said. “There was a night game in the East Coast Pro League and he was facing a pretty good arm. The guy was throwing it 96 mph and Keith led off the game with a triple to the left-center field gap.

“Just the way he was able drive that ball to the opposite-field gap, his speed and the way he was real quick on the turns around the bases — that was one time where you just went, whoa.”

The Tigers listed him on draft day as a third baseman. More than likely, he will also be given a look in the outfield.

“He’s going to be a hitter,” said Scott Pleis, the Tigers' director of amateur scouting. “We think he’s going to hit and hit for power. We knew him from the summers. We know what Keith is all about.”

Of the six players the Tigers drafted last week, two of them started for Tracy Smith at Arizona State and Keith most assuredly would have, as well.

“It wasn’t intentional, believe me,” Pleis said. “I think they (ASU) aren’t going to be really happy with me, probably. But, hey, I like good players.”

Twitter: @cmccosky