Tigers' Keith looking to power up in AFL

October 12th, 2022

is a different player from when the Tigers selected him in the fifth round of the 2020 Draft -- literally. Listed at 211 pounds when drafted out of Biloxi (HS), Miss., Keith, who is now committed to the hot corner and an increased focus on extra-base pop, weighed in at 245 pounds prior to the Arizona Fall League.

“I’m looking at my comps in the big leagues and they’re hitting 30, 40 home runs,” Keith said. “Last year, I was more of just a singles guy, maybe an occasional double or triple in the gap and I really put emphasis on putting on a lot of muscle.

“Put on some significant power and strength in my wrists and forearms and legs, I’m excited to see how it plays.”

Keith’s regular season campaign ended on June 9 due to a right shoulder injury that did not require surgery. He had been heating up alongside the weather, having hit five home runs in his final 11 contests for High-A West Michigan; on the year, the club’s sixth-ranked prospect slashed .301/.370/.544 with 26 extra-base hits in 48 games.

“It was a long process -- it took 14 weeks,” Keith said. “I’m just getting my shoulder back to throwing and I’m really happy with how it went. Strength staff and medical staff took really good care of me and I’m better than ever right now.”

In-game reps have been difficult to come by for Keith, who heads to Arizona as a member of the Salt River Rafters in the Arizona Fall League. The now bulked up 21-year-old could have been playing in the Copper State the past few years were it not for Detroit offering him a $500,000 signing bonus to draw him away from his Arizona State commitment.

While the premier prospect proving ground offers an opportunity for Keith to accrue additional at-bats following his injury, it will afford other benefits as well.

“I’m trying to just absorb everything I possibly can from my teammates and all the baseball minds that are all around me,” Keith said. “Absorb as much as I can, get as much experience as I can going into next year.”

Tigers hitters in the Fall League

Dillon Dingler, C (No. 10): Once seen as a potential fast-riser through the Detroit system, Dingler’s stock took a hit after he delivered a .578 OPS in his first taste of Double-A in 2021. He rebounded with 14 homers and 58 RBIs at the level this past year, but he’ll be looking to find an offensive rhythm and hone a more patient approach with Salt River. Regarded as one of the organization’s premier athletes, the 24-year-old combines an above-average throwing arm with strong game instincts.

Parker Meadows, OF (No. 16): After two trying offensive seasons at the lower levels of the Tigers’ system, Meadows took a sizable step forward during the back half of 2022. He cut his strikeout rate to 18.4% over 113 games with Double-A Erie, a step forward from the 23.5% mark he had in Single-A and High-A. Over his final 88 games with the SeaWolves, Meadows slashed .305/.381/.521 and added 10 stolen bases.

Gage Workman, SS: When the Tigers nabbed Workman in the fourth round of the 2020 Draft out of Arizona State, he was hailed as a “huge upside” signing for his power/speed combo. While that materialized in a 30-double/30-steal campaign for Erie in ‘22, he hit just .225 with a .691 OPS in 128 games and posted a 40% strikeout rate.

Tigers pitchers in the Fall League

Joey Wentz, LHP (No. 24): Wentz is the rare AFL participant with big league experience under his belt, having started seven games for Detroit during the regular season. Wentz underwent Tommy John surgery in March 2020 and has been on a quest to build up innings ever since. He combined for 86 frames between three levels this year, but was sidelined due to a neck/shoulder ailment that robbed him of nearly two months. The southpaw’s cutter was his most effective pitch in his short stint with the Tigers, as it held opposing batters to a .154 average and accounted for 39.1% of his putaway pitches.

Tyler Mattison, RHP (No. 25): Mattison was selected in the fourth round by Detroit in 2021 out of Bryant University, the highest-chosen player in school history. His high arm slot allows his mid-90s fastball to play up, while his mid-80s changeup is his top offspeed offering. Arm fatigue facilitated an early shift to the bullpen in 2022, which has allowed his power stuff to play in shorter stints. Across 24 appearances with Single-A Lakeland, Mattison whiffed 46 batters in 32 2/3 innings. 

Jack Anderson, RHP: Anderson posted a 3.47 ERA over 39 outings between Lakeland and West Michigan this season, but he went two months without allowing an earned run across 28 2/3 innings between July and August. The 16th-round selection in the 2021 Draft held opposing batters to a .175 average and .453 OPS in that span with 33 strikeouts and six walks to his ledger. 

Matt Walker, LHP: A 13th-round selection out of Illinois State in the 2019 Draft, Walker utilizes an 89-91 mph fastball to go along with a low-80s slider and changeup. Utilized primarily out of relief across his first two years in the Tigers’ system, Walker’s numbers improved upon a shift to a starter/multi-inning role with West Michigan in July. The southpaw yielded two runs or fewer in seven of his eight appearances with the Whitecaps and is looking to utilize his time in the AFL as a means to put himself on Detroit’s radar.