Tigers reach deals with draftees Cruz, Keith

June 17th, 2020

Trei Cruz’s journey toward becoming a third-generation Major Leaguer is about to get started. The Tigers have agreed to terms with the Rice University infielder, their third-round pick in last week’s MLB Draft.

The Tigers announced the deal, as well as one with third baseman Colt Keith, their fifth-round pick from Biloxi High School in Mississippi, on Wednesday. MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis reported that Cruz will receive a $900,000 bonus, slightly above the slot value assigned to Detroit's third-round pick. Keith -- the lone high-school player the Tigers drafted last week -- agreed to a $500,000 bonus, according to Callis, more than the $426,000 bonus slotted for the pick.

Cruz had been expected to reach a deal in his third go-around in the Draft. He was a 35th-round pick by the Astros out of high school in 2017 and a 37th-round selection by the Nationals last year, but opted to return to school for his junior season. The decision paid off with a solid Cape Cod League campaign last summer and a strong start for Rice this spring before the college baseball season ended in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I think he still has some upside,” scouting director Scott Pleis said last week. “He’s a switch-hitter. He’s not a power guy, but he’s got some power. Good athlete, very versatile. His bat has evolved the last few years and keeps getting better. We really feel like we’ve got a really good baseball player here.”

Cruz hit .328 (19-for-58) with seven doubles, a home run, eight RBIs, 18 walks and 17 strikeouts in 16 games for Rice this season. He played shortstop at Rice, but is expected to move around the infield in the Tigers farm system.

Cruz is the son of former Blue Jays outfielder Jose Cruz Jr. and the grandson of former Astros All-Star Jose Cruz Sr. He would become the first third-generation Major Leaguer to play for Detroit if he reaches the big leagues with the organization.

“At the end of the day, I want to give myself the best chance in Major League Baseball,” Cruz said. “If it's at third base, if it's at short, if it's in the outfield, it is what it is. ... I'm excited to rep the Tigers organization and show the Cruz name in Detroit.”

Keith, 18, was named Mississippi’s Gatorade Player of the Year in 2019 after hitting .527 as a junior. He also was named a second-team high school All-America by Collegiate Baseball. Keith participated in Major League Baseball’s Prospect Development Pipeline in 2019, playing in eight games with “Team Jeter.” Keith was selected a 2020 preseason All-America and to the preseason Southeast All-Region first team by Perfect Game.

Keith had been committed to Arizona State, the same school from which the Tigers drafted first overall pick Spencer Torkelson and fourth-round pick Gage Workman. But Keith said in a Zoom call with reporters on Friday that he was likely to turn pro as long as the contract terms were acceptable. The Tigers, who entered the Draft with the second-highest bonus pool among Major League clubs, reached out before their pick to lead off the fifth and final round last Thursday.

“During the Draft, [Tigers scout Mike Smith] called and he made an offer and we agreed,” Keith said.

That deal was finalized this week. And the Tigers gained another high-upside hitting prospect.

Though Keith was seen by some as a pitching prospect with a fastball in the low to mid-90s – he said 15 of 20 clubs who expressed interest saw him as a potential two-way player – the Tigers plan on developing Keith exclusively as a position player and hitter. His left-handed swing projects to develop power as he matures. He ranked 87th on MLB Pipeline’s Draft list.

“We got a high-ceiling third baseman that we’re excited to get, a left-handed hitter,” Pleis said. “He’s going to grow into some power.”