No. 2 prospect Keith revels in first-half playoff clinch with Erie

June 25th, 2023

Most coverage of Minor League Baseball centers on top prospects and individual success, and for understandable reasons. Young talent coming up through a pipeline is the lifeblood of an organization and critical for sustainable success. Yet even in the Minors, there’s a value to team success and the experience of a playoff race.

To watch Double-A Erie manager Gabe Alvarez address his players Friday night after they clinched a first-half division title and a spot in the Eastern League postseason, that value was hard to dismiss.

“I truly believe that learning to win is part of a player’s development,” Alvarez said later. “It’s one thing to compete, to get your hits in the batter's box or to get your strikeouts on the mound. But to actually compete to win is something that you need to learn how to do. You need to practice at it. Once you get up to the big leagues, that’s really all that matters. If you wait until you get to the big leagues to try to learn how to compete to win, you’re going to struggle.”

The SeaWolves have experienced success before. A good portion of this squad -- including prospects Wilmer Flores, Ty Madden, Dillon Dingler and Gage Workman -- was also there last season when they advanced to the Eastern League championship series, after clinching a playoff spot on the final day.

For a newcomer like No. 2 prospect Colt Keith, however, the experience is new. After injuries shortened his season at High-A West Michigan last year, the 21-year-old was fully invested in Erie’s team.

“It’s awesome,” Keith said. “I know pro ball -- especially in the Minors -- there’s a lot of individual factors to it with development and all that, and getting as good as you can get and putting up stats. But this is one of the first times in a while where I felt like I didn’t care if I went up [to bat] and got out or struck out. I just wanted to do something to help us win, and it was some of the most fun I’ve had in a long time playing the game. I haven’t felt like that since I was a kid.”

The SeaWolves had to overcome a lot to win, from a season-opening injury to Dingler to first-half struggles by Flores and Madden. The team went 8-13 in April before heating up to go 18-8 in May -- including an incredible 9-3 road record that month. Keith, not surprisingly, played a big part in that, batting .374 (34-for-91) with six home runs, seven doubles, 27 RBIs and a 1.107 OPS.

The way Keith has hit this year means there’s a good chance he’ll be gone by the time the SeaWolves begin postseason play this fall. But he can take ownership in playing a part in getting them there.

“For someone like Colt, who’s had so much personal success this year, to be able to have team success, I think him getting a taste of it is no doubt going to help him in the future,” Alvarez said.

Here’s who else we’re watching as the Minor League seasons near the midway point:

• Triple-A Toledo: No. 10 prospect Parker Meadows is on a tear, batting .400 (22-for-55) over his last 12 games entering Sunday to raise his average from .236 to .268. He went 2-for-5 with a double, triple and two runs scored Friday against St. Paul.

• Double-A Erie: Flores, Detroit’s No. 4 prospect, continues his rebound from early-season struggles, having posted six-plus strikeouts in each of his past five starts and posting a 2.15 ERA over his past six outings. Dingler, Detroit’s No. 14 prospect, is 9-for-24 (.375) over his past seven games.

• High-A West Michigan: No. 13 prospect Roberto Campos entered Sunday on a 15-game hitting streak, batting .344 (21-for-61) with three doubles and 10 RBIs. He went 4-for-4 Saturday against Great Lakes.

• Class A Lakeland: No. 3 prospect Jackson Jobe, sidelined for much of the season with a back injury, struck out five batters over 2 2/3 scoreless innings on Thursday against Bradenton. Slugging first baseman Andrew Jenkins, a ninth-round Draft pick last year out of Georgia Tech, returned from the injured list with hits in each of his first four games -- including a 4-for-5, four-RBI performance against Bradenton.