The Biloxi High School baseball team was already expected to be one of the best squads on the Coast in 2019, and then Colt Keith showed up.
Keith is a junior who stands 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, swings with plenty of power from the left side of the plate and features a strong arm and glove at either shortstop or third base.
Oh, he has also verbally committed to Arizona State and is listed by Perfect Game as a 10 — the highest rating a baseball prospect can receive from the scouting service.
There are new students who can occasionally provide a lift to their new high school in their sport of choice, but it’s rare that a game-changing addition on the level of Keith transfers into a new school district.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Sun Herald
“I’ve been a head coach for 22 years and it’s the first time it’s happened for me,” Biloxi baseball coach Eddie Lofton said. “There are not too many people that can say that somebody with his talent has fallen in their lap like that.”
Keith, who committed to the Sun Devils after his freshman season, hit .510 with seven homers and 57 RBIs in 29 games as a sophomore at Verrado High School in Buckeye, Arizona — a suburb of the baseball hotbed of Phoenix.
Keith, who led Verrado in all three stats on the way to a bid to the Class 5A state title series, was fully planning on leading the Vipers back to the championship round as a junior, but a change of location was needed for his mother, who is an attorney that works for the oil and gas industry.
In the second week of June, Keith and his parents made a swing through Biloxi on their way to a Perfect Game event in Atlanta so he could join many of the nation’s other top young baseball prospects.
“He came through here and did some hitting in the facility with us,” Lofton recalled. “In that moment, it was a chance to visit with his parents. They said they might be moving to Mississippi.
“Next thing you now, a few weeks later they were real interested in coming in and touring the school. Going on from there, it kind of fell into our laps.”
For a Biloxi squad that only hit two home runs as a team last year, Keith will instantly provide an elite bat in the middle of the lineup. He can also pitch with a fastball that can touch 90-91 miles per hour.
“With or without Colten, we were going to be pretty dang good,” Lofton said. “In our league with everybody we compete against, that does add an extra factor that you need. When you’re competing against guys like George County and Gulfport and some of the guys they’ve got coming back at St. Martin, it’ll be a good year.”
Keith was 8 years old when his family moved from Ohio to Utah. At the age of 12, they moved south to Arizona.
Prior to his move to Arizona, Keith was mostly known as a top-notch wrestler on the youth circuit. His arrival in the Phoenix area, which serves as one of the nation’s best baseball incubators, helped him make the decision to turn his focus to the diamond.
Change of scenery
After playing at a high level in Arizona, Keith’s transition to the baseball field in Mississippi should be an easy one. It’s the day-to-day stuff that’s required the biggest adjustment.
“It’s so much different. Every aspect, the people, the culture,” Keith said. “Everything is different. The schooling is a lot different. Biloxi is a lot smaller town than Phoenix, but it’s been a good transition so far.”
While the move to the Mississippi Gulf Coast may have required changes on his Keith’s behalf, there’s one facet of South Mississippi life that he has happily embraced — “The food is a lot better.”
As Lofton watched Keith get his first work in with the team during the fall, he realized that Keith was fully capable of living up to the lofty rating from Perfect game.
“There’s times when you watch him hit, you go, ‘Wow.’” Lofton said. “He has that ‘Wow’ effect at the plate. In the field, he’s got a great arm and he can really move for a big guy. He’s 6-3, 195, but he moves like a smaller infielder.”
Big league dreams
Keith points to Cleveland Indians switch-hitting shortstop Francisco Lindor, who has hit over 30 homers in each of the last two seasons, as a player that he models himself after.
“He’s a great player, loves the game,” Keith said. “He plays with respect, respects the game. No matter what happens, he’s having fun. I mimic that when I play.”
While Keith said that he remains committed to Arizona State, he ultimately hopes to follow Lindor’s path to the big leagues.
“That’s the main goal for every player,” he said. “I hope when the situation comes I get drafted as high as I can and go to the draft. I still look forward to going to Arizona State, but I just hope to get that opportunity. “
Lofton firmly believes Keith has MLB potential.
“His projectability is off the charts,” the fourth-year Biloxi head coach said.
Keith, who was recently projected as the best baseball player in the state of Arizona for the 2019 season by Maxpreps, joins a Biloxi squad that loses only a pair of starters off a team that finished 10-15.
“I didn’t really know what to expect when I came here,” he said. “Everybody welcomed me. Everybody reached out and asked to hang out with me. It’s a good group of guys and they’ve all been nice to me. I really felt welcomed when I first came.”
Lofton has watched his players embrace Keith.
“Anytime a newcomer is moving to a new school, you don’t really know how he’ll fit in,” he said. “With the talent he’s got, the guys are excited. They want to try to make a run. They’re excited about anybody that can help the team out and help us be successful. The chemistry has gone as good as you’d expect with someone moving in.”