The Marlins currently have an outfielder on their Class A team that deserves much more attention than he’s received. That player, outfielder Brent Keys, has put up unbelievable numbers this year, and finally, his tools have translated into results. He’s almost hitting .400, and he has played outstanding defense in 2012. Keys was never considered a prospect before this season, but talent evaluators have quickly changed their mind when it comes to this athletic twenty-one year old. Hopefully, Keys can continue to be successful for another couple of weeks in Greensboro, then get a promotion to High-A.
Brent Keys was born in July of 1990 in Simi Valley, California, which is in the San Fernando Valley right outside of Los Angeles. At Simi Valley High School, Keys never stood out as a dominating hitter. In 2008, as a Junior, Keys hit .377 with two homers in thirty-three games. While those might seem like impressive numbers for some people, the average batting average for a high school position player is usually much higher than one of an MLB position player. Keys wasn’t dominant in high school, but he did turn some heads due to his athleticism. In 2009, Keys was named to the California All-Region 2nd team and was selected by the Miami Marlins in the seventeenth round.
Brent Keys isn’t one of those players that you can spot for a mile away because of their impressive build. He stands about 6’2’’ and around 210 pounds. However, Keys has filled into his body very positively since high school. I would estimate that he has gained about two inches of height and forty pounds over the last three years. Keys is a left-handed hitter and right-handed thrower. He is also known to sometimes wear his socks at the knees, which I think makes any baseball player a lot cooler.
Sometimes you hear scouts say that a player sells out for power. What that means is that the player will sacrifice their approach at the plate, in order to hit a couple of more homers. Keys is almost directly the opposite type of hitter than the afore mentioned. If anything, Keys sells out for contact. Hitting from the left side, he is already closer to first base than right-handed hitters, so he smartly uses that to his advantage. Keys doesn’t have outstanding speed, but he’s faster than the average major league outfielder.
In terms of defense, there is no verdict out on how long Keys can continue to play center field. Some people think that Keys projects better in the corner outfield, and some see him sticking in center. A source told me that this year, Keys has been much improved in center. “Always on the go in center field, he gets a very good jump on the ball when it is coming his way and he does a very good job in turn, of reading the ball as it comes off of the hitters' bats.” It’s great to hear that along with Key’s great approach at the plate, his defense has been developing as well.
Brent Keys has been hitting third for the Greensboro team this year, but he doesn’t profile as a #3 hitter in the game. I think that if Keys reaches his ceiling, he can become an above-average #2 hitter. Baseball America had this to say about Keys’ future as a top of the order hitter: “He draws walks, rarely strikes out, takes good routes and has enough arm to play right field if need be.” Another reason why I think Keys can be a #2 hitter is because he has the ability to hit the ball to all fields. He’s not a pull hitter, he has some gap power, but above all, he can hit the ball to left-center field fairly consistently.
After being selected by the Marlins, Keys signed relatively early and was playing in games by the end of June. Playing in Rookie Ball for fifty-five games in 2009, Keys hit .288 with a .395 OBP. Still, Keys wasn’t considered a serious major league prospect by most people following the Marlins minor league system. In 2010, with Jamestown, Keys hit .267 with a .360 OBP in sixty-five games. Noticing a trend? Brent Keys gets on base, and he does it a lot. Keys’ .390 BB% is very impressive for any minor leaguer, let alone one who was drafted straight out of high school.
In 2011, Keys couldn’t stay healthy. Bouncing back between Jamestown and Greensboro, Keys was only able to play in forty-three games. In those games, he hit .296 with only one homer. Keys is never going to be a power hitter. In fact, he probably will never have even average power. However, with his other tools, I believe can make up for the lack of power in other parts of the game.
Brent Keys has been the best hitter in the South Atlantic League in 2012, and it hasn’t even been close. Keys is hitting .392 with six doubles, one triple, and three homers in 148 at-bats. It’s not like Keys average is based purely on luck also. He has a LD% of 16.2 and a wOBA of .453. His on-base percentage, .477, is one of the best in baseball. Keys has drawn twenty-four walks and has only struck out only eleven times in 2012. Is that even possible? I don’t know how many of Keys’ statistics I have to state in order to give you guys and idea of how dominant how has been, but the most impressive thing about his numbers might be that he really doesn’t have a statistic that makes him look bad right now. Keys is on fire right now, and unfortunately, the pace at which he has played at is unsustainable. The question is, how much are Keys numbers going to fall during the next few months? Hopefully, he can maintain a high level of production over the next couple weeks so a promotion to Jupiter would be almost necessary.
Brent Keys has had a historically good month. For example, in one game, Keys stole second and third base in the bottom of the ninth and later scored to give the Grasshoppers the win. At the start of the season, nobody saw Brent Keys as being one of the Marlins top outfield prospects. Now, Keys seems like a future consideration for a starting job in the Miami outfield. Of course, Keys has only played in thirty-nine games and we should wait before we get too excited about his success. However, there’s no reason not to be thrilled about how Keys has become one of the most exciting young hitters in the South Atlantic League.