BRADENTON, Fla. -- Colt Keith was facing a 1-2 count in the top of the first inning, giving him the opportunity to try something new. Back at Biloxi High School, as one of the top hitters in the state of Mississippi, it’s hard to imagine Keith sees too many two-strike
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Colt Keith was facing a 1-2 count in the top of the first inning, giving him the opportunity to try something new. Back at Biloxi High School, as one of the top hitters in the state of Mississippi, it’s hard to imagine Keith sees too many two-strike counts.
“I do not,” the Arizona State recruit said with a smile.
But here at the Prospect Development Pipeline, the top Class of 2020 prep arms in the country are going right after hitters like Keith. So behind in the count with leadoff hitter Dylan Crews (Lake Mary, Fla.) on third, Petey Halpin (St. Francis, Calif.) on first and none out, he changed his approach ever so slightly, singling to right field to drive in the first run of the game. An inning later, he singled in a second run to help propel Team Jeter to a 10-2 win over Team Howard.
“Coach [USA Baseball hitting coordinator Gregg] Ritchie said if you get to two strikes, choke up,” Keith said. “I choked up and got a hit. It worked out. In the second at-bat, I had a plan going up there, me and the coaches had just talked about it, the plan executed and I got two hits.”
Had that been all Keith contributed to the win, that would’ve been more than enough. But Keith is a two-way player who also tossed two hitless innings, running his fastball up to 92 mph and facing the minimum as he erased a leadoff walk with a double play in his first inning of work.
“I’m definitely a hitter who likes to pitch,” said Keith. “I happen to have athletic ability to be able to throw the ball over the plate and compete out there. I’m definitely a hitter before that, though.”
Keith’s fastball command was his best weapon, though he also mixed in both a slider and a curveball in his two innings of work. He was effective in pounding his fastball in, especially when he got Austin Hendrick (West Allegheny, Pa.) to pop up on a first-pitch fastball in on his hands. And while he describes himself as a hitter first, there are no immediate plans to give up mound time, especially if he heads to ASU.
“The plan is right now to do both,” Keith said. “I’m going to try and do both as much as I can. I love pitching and I love hitting. I like doing both and they said I can do both, so I’m going to do it as much as I can. If it comes down to it, I’ll give up pitching and hit, if that’s what they need.”
And while it used to be that college would be the last place a player could hit and pitch, that’s no longer the case. Shohei Ohtani is obviously the most famous example, but Rays prospect Brendan McKay, who will make his big league debut on Saturday, still does both.
“It’s possible,” Keith said. “I’m going to keep on working on both, keep on getting as good as I can at both aspects and see what happens. If it works out, it works out. If it doesn’t, we’ll go with whatever works.”
The second game of the afternoon was rain-shortened, ended after six and a half innings were played, but not before Alex Santos and Ben Hernandez showed cold-weather guys can more than hold their own. Santos, a 6-foot-3 right-hander from Mount St. Michael Academy in the Bronx, New York, and Hernandez, a 6-foot-2 righty from De La Salle Institute in Chicago, tossed six hitless innings in Team Larkin’s 3-0 win over Team Jones.
Santos ran his fastball up to around 92 mph consistently and folded in a solid breaking ball while facing n the minimum through his three innings of work. The Maryland commit struck out three and walked the leadoff hitter, Enrique Bradfield (American Heritage Plantation, Fla.), who was then cut down trying to steal by catcher Kevin Parada (Loyola, Calif.). Santos’ command was much better than in his first outing, when he gave up three hits, two walks and two earned runs (three total).
Hernandez turned in his second straight hitless outing, allowing just one walk while whiffing three. He topped out at 94 mph with his fastball and featured a solid low-80s breaker to keep hitters off-balance. The Illinois-Chicago recruit now has tossed six innings without allowing a hit, giving up just the one walk while striking out seven.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.