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Tigers sign top infield prospect Colt Keith to 6-year extension before he makes MLB debut

The Tigers signed No. 2 prospect Colt Keith to a six-year extension before he has played a single MLB inning. (Photo by Scott Audette/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
The Tigers signed No. 2 prospect Colt Keith to a six-year extension before he has played a single MLB inning. (Photo by Scott Audette/MLB Photos via Getty Images) (Scott Audette via Getty Images)

The Detroit Tigers have made a big move as spring training approaches.

The team announced Sunday that they signed 22-year-old infield prospect Colt Keith to a six-year contract extension worth more than $28 million. Keith has not yet made his MLB debut.

Keith is committed to the Tigers through 2029, and the club has the option to bring him back in 2030, 2031 and 2032. Here's a breakdown of the financials of this deal, via the team:

"Keith will make $28,642,500 over the first six years of the deal: $2.5M in 2024, $3.5M in 2025, $4M per season from 2026-27, and $5M per season from 2028-29. The deal also includes a $2M signing bonus, $10M club option for 2030 with a $2,642,500 buyout, $13M club option for 2031 with a $1M buyout, $15M club option for 2032 with a $2M buyout, and escalators for the club option salaries. If all options are escalated and exercised, the contract would be worth $82M over nine years."

Overall as a minor leaguer, Keith has hit .300/.382/.512 in 239 games. The Tigers drafted him in the fifth round in 2020, and he has made it as high as Triple-A. With the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens in 2023, he hit .287/.369/.521 with 13 home runs over 67 games. Keith plays second and third base, but the Tigers will likely use him as their second baseman going forward.

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It's rare but not unheard of for a team to sign a player to a contract extension before he makes his MLB debut. The Philadelphia Phillies did it with Scott Kingery in 2018. The Chicago White Sox have done it twice recently, with Luis Robert and again with Eloy Jimenez. It's a gamble and a pretty big one, considering how few prospects end up working out. Kingery was a big miss for the Phillies, while Jimenez and Robert have largely panned out for the White Sox, though neither is an elite player.

But for the Tigers, this is likely a gamble worth taking. The 2024 season marks the 10th anniversary of their last trip to the playoffs, and they're still a long way from being seriously competitive (even in the weak American League Central). It's time for them to see what they've got in their young prospects so they can make forward progress in their rebuild. The Tigers no doubt hope that locking down Keith for the long term will get them moving in the right direction.