Detroit Tigers rookie Colt Keith finds his speed in MLB with help from Riley Greene

Detroit Tigers rookie Colt Keith finds his speed in MLB with help from Riley Greene
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Detroit Tigers rookie Colt Keith knew he hit a home run when his bat struck the ball.

Not once but twice.


“Those were the first two in the big leagues where I hit them and I knew they were going to be homers,” said Keith, who grew up less than 200 miles east of Cincinnati, in Zanesville, Ohio. “That’s a really good feeling because it means I’m behind the ball, feeling everything and more conscious of the game, instead of being sped up.”


Keith has felt sped up many times in his professional career.

It happens to him every time he moves up a level.

Keith has leaned on Riley Greene, an energetic 23-year-old wise beyond his baseball years, for tips about his approach and swing mechanics.

Drafted in 2020 and 2019, respectively, they’re separated in age by a mere 10 months, 15 days.

Greene, deliving an All-Star-worth appearance in 2024, is hitting .266 with 17 homers and an .868 OPS across 87 games in his third MLB season. He has a .318 batting average with a 1.025 OPS in his past 35 games, dating to May 29.

“We talk a lot about approach and swings and mechanics and stuff like that,” Keith said of Greene’s influence. “When I got up to the big leagues, I felt like I lost everything in my swing. I felt lost. He’s a guy who’s helped me build back to where my swing was last year.”

“Yeah, I’ll throw something out there every once in a while,” Greene said of teaching Keith, “but he’s pretty close to the hitting guys, and the hitting guys know what they’re doing. He’s just kinda doing his thing, and it’s working.”

“When I feel sped up, a lot of things you’ll hear is when guys hit homers, they don’t know they’re gone and they don’t know what pitch they hit,” Keith said. “That’s one of the things that happened to me. I hit that slider super deep, and I didn’t know if it was gone or not. I knew I hit it OK, and I know that wall is big in right field, so I better make sure I’m getting as many bases as I can.”

He didn’t feel sped up in Friday’s 5-4 win over the Reds.

Everything seemed to be happening in slow motion.

“It’s part of the big leagues, in a sense,” Greene said. “You’re going to succeed, you’re going to fail, you’re going to succeed, you’re going for fail. He’s taking it well. It just shows how far he’s come as a player, and the homers are a result of that.”

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He just needed to find his groove.

We still have a long ways to go offensively, but I feel like we now have 2 foundation type pieces in Greene and Keith.

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Colt Keith, Justyn-Henry Malloy showing Detroit Tigers most important rookie skill: Grace
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Keith

The Tigers knew this might happen. During spring training, Scott Harris, the Tigers’ president of baseball operations, warned Keith could have a slow start. Because rookies almost always have a slow start in the big leagues.

In March and April, Keith hit .154 with no homers and just one extra base hit, striking out 18 times with eight walks.

Translation from those stats: Not good.

But it wasn’t surprising, either.

“There were times in April and May, where I felt like I was lining out a lot, and I was pressing for stats, just pressing, trying to help the team win more,” Keith said.

In his past 28 games, including Wednesday night, Keith has hit .297 with an .891 OPS.

“We believed it the whole time,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch told Dan Dickerson on the radio broadcast Wednesday night. “We just needed him to grow a little bit and settle down and maybe take a deep breath and collect himself.”

Keith is showing what the Tigers have thought all along. It’s why they offered him a contract extension before he played a single game in Detroit.

“I think the world is looking at him differently because he’s had some success under his belt,” Hinch told Dickerson. “He’s obviously a big threat. The pitches he’s swinging at are a little bit better, his path is a little better. The results have been much better. That leads us to think something is different. But in reality, he’s learning and growing up.”

Indeed.

This isn’t a new Colt Keith. It’s just a growing Colt Keith. A more mature player.

This is the same hitter I saw in the minor leagues, a talent who had the power to crush homers but also the creativity to just flick an outside pitch into the opposite field for an easy hit.

“I think it’s just being loose, bat control,” he said. “Just getting used to the flow of the game and having confidence.”

Earlier this year, he had more fear than confidence.

“I just was scared to do what I’ve done in the past, like slap balls over shortstop and then also pull the ball on the line,” he said. “I wanted to be perfect and then I kind of missed my chances. I wasn’t taking as many shots and it kind of hurt me.”

There is a tendency, especially these days, to view baseball through a hardcore stat prism. But the other side of the game — the psychology — is just as important.

“I’ve gotten to know the team and the guys and the flow of the league,” Keith said. “I’ve been able to loosen up and be better in every facet. Steal a few bases. I know the speed of the game. And just loosen up and it’s been really good.”

Get to know the team. Learn the flow. Adjust to the speed. And loosen up.

That’s not about stats or swing path or chase rates.

It’s the human side of the game.

And it’s the most important part of how players grow.

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From the article

Malloy

Which brings us to Justyn-Henry Malloy.

Another rookie.

He has been hovering around a .200 batting average. But that doesn’t tell the story. “He’s doing a little bit better than maybe what meets the eye on the scoreboard, certainly recently,” Hinch told reporters before Wednesday’s game.

In the 14 days leading into Wednesday’s game, Malloy had an .872 OPS, fueled by three homers in just nine games, despite a .258 batting average.

That’s progress.

“He’s learned a lot and his attitude every day has been good,” Hinch said. “The conversations behind the scenes have been really good. So that’s encouraging.”

All of this should be a reminder: Young players develop at different rates — and it’s never linear.

“I’ve learned that this is not the minor leagues,” Malloy smiled. “This is the big leagues, and to just be able to ride the ups and downs and to stay as level as possible. Just have grace with myself.”

Have a lot of grace.

What a beautiful way of looking at it.

Outfielder Parker Meadows struggled, went down to Triple-A Toledo, came back and looked improved but then went out with a hamstring.

First baseman Spencer Torkelson hit 31 homers last year, struggled this spring and is trying to work his way back from Toledo.

No path is ever the same.

The key, for every player, is giving himself some grace. The freedom to fail.

And just breathe.

Keith has learned it, and Malloy is trying to live it.

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Keith continues to chug along as he extended his hitting streak to eight games. During that stretch, the rookie has batted .419 with six extra-base hits.

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