Texas Tech second baseman Jace Jung has late traction as the Tigers first round pick

Bless You Boys

The Tigers’ strategy for the 2022 MLB draft is cloudy. They haven’t picked lower than sixth since 2017 but now hold the 12th overall selection. The years in which there were only one or two likely choices are over, and the Tigers find themselves in a trickier spot in the middle of the draft order. Among fans, though, there’s a string sentiment in favor of drafting a college batter, especially after seeing the Tigers offense in shambles despite concerted efforts by the team to be competitive this year.

In a draft class stacked at the top with quality hitters, many of the best hitting prospects have overlapping skills and draft values. That’s going to lead to one or more of the players in that group slipping to the back end of their expected range, or even past it. If the Tigers do opt for a lower-risk hitter, there aren’t many in this draft better than Texas Tech second baseman Jace Jung.

The Red Raiders got an incredible season from him in 2022, and he was long viewed as a top ten selection However, despite being considered just out of reach for Detroit for most of this draft cycle, he’s being mocked to the Olde English D as draft coverage reaches the finish line.

The final mock draft from Prospects Live sends Jung to the Tigers on the reasoning that industry sources believe that they’d rather draft a bat this year, and he was the best available hitter based on how the rest of the draft went. ESPN also asserted that the Tigers don’t want to take a prep pitcher if there’s other options on the board.

On the other hand, we’ve also seen them linked to a couple of high quality college arms, LHP Connor Prielipp most prominently, and their predilection for going best player available in the first round, and then trying to land a bat in the second round has been a key feature of several recent drafts. For the fanbase’s sake, it would be good if a hitter they covet, like Jace Jung, slips back out of the top ten and give Al Avila and Tigers’ amateur scouting director Scott Pleis that option. It’s certainly much easily to project them to find a good pitcher in the second round than to dig up an undervalued bat.

Offensive Upside

“The first thing you have to talk about is the bat,” said Texas Tech baseball expert RC Maxfield in an interview with Bless You Boys. “He’s got foul pole to foul pole power. It’s legit — it’ll play in any park. Really, that’s what you’re drafting. He’s got a great eye at the plate; he’s walked more than he struck out in arguably the best college baseball league in America. You look at the power he possesses, and he’s shown it every year he’s been there. I think that’s the biggest thing about him: he can legitimately hit the ball out to every part of the field.”

Maxfield was effusive in his praise of Jung’s offensive capabilities. In his estimation, Jung has everything he needs to be a successful pro. He’s not going to sell out his approach to get to his power, which is a scouting observation that’s backed up by the statistics. He’s maintained a higher walk rate than strikeout rate and finished all three seasons with at least a .600 slugging percentage. What puts this package over the top is Jung’s understanding of the game from inside the box.

“He’s a really smart hitter. I think overall, I’ve only seen maybe a handful of at bats in his three years where I’m just like, ‘all right, the pitcher just got the best of him there,’” explained Maxfield. “Overall, you know what you’re gonna get from him every time he goes to the plate, which is a consistent at-bat, which is a guy that knows the approach that he wants to go to. If he’s facing a lefty, he knows he can just pull the ball, he doesn’t have to hit it out. He’s just a really smart hitter.”

Maxfield also went out of his way later in the interview to commend Jung for his self-awareness as a hitter. Few features are more appealing in a hitter than the ability to understand his game and swing on an intimate level and make adjustments when they’re needed without prompting. They’re not at all the same kind of prospect, but when you look at what made Riley Greene such a precocious hitter at a young age, it basically boils down to the same thing.

The media in any sport loves to make draft day about the storylines, and you can expect to hear a lot about Jace Jung’s older brother, Josh Jung, whenever Jace is mentioned. The siblings are both fantastic hitters with a future on the infield. But, don’t let yourself be dragged into a comparison between the two! As Maxfield explained, continually putting Josh at the front of conversations bout Jace is doing the younger brother a disservice.

“The problem is that he’s always going to be compared to Josh, right? Josh went eighth overall to the Rangers in 2019. I mean, Josh is just a better well-rounded player, all round. Josh is really good at everything, but not great at one particular thing. Jace is a very, very good power hitter first, and solid at everything else.”

Defensive Uncertainty

Being that the younger Jung is such an excellent hitter who comes from a baseball family — something that baseball traditionalists love — it’s obvious from that information alone there must be a lack of defensive certainty suppressing his value if he’ll be available with the 12th pick. That’s true, but perhaps not to the extent you’d expect.

Lack of defensive certainty is never a good thing, but there are many ways it can manifest. In a prospect like Spencer Torkelson, he was always destined to play first base, something he does well. He was athletic enough that the Tigers challenged him to play third, leading to uncertainty because it was possible that he could stick and be average there. For draft prospect Jacob Berry, the uncertainty is whether he’ll even be playable on the field. Jung falls somewhere on the middle of that spectrum.

“You’re drafting his bat-first because you don’t know where he’s going to play long-term,” said Maxfield. “He started at third his freshman season, it didn’t go too well, moved into second. He found kind of the happy medium right there at second base, but it’s all about the bat.”

“The biggest thing for him defensively is his arm strength. It’s nothing spectacular, but it’ll get the job done. He’ll even tell you that. I think because of that, he’ll end up on the right side of the infield for his entire career. Whether that’s at second or first base, I would guess second. Some team is gonna give him a shot, but he might end up at first base long term.”

“Everyone always asks me for a comp, and I think Max Muncy. That’s kinda who I think of when I see Jace play, a guy that, yeah, he can play third base, but do you feel comfortable about it long-term? Probably not. He can play second base and you feel okay there, but at the end of the day he’s probably playing first the majority of the time. But when I look at him, he’s probably going to be that guy who can play second base at a major league level. He’s never gonna win a gold glove, but he’s not going to lose you games with his defense.”

If that feels like a lot of equivocation from Maxfield, that’s because it is. The short version is this: he has the feel to play a more valuable position that first base, but it may not be possible because of his physical limitations. That’s a gamble most teams in the middle of the first round or higher would be willing to make when it comes attached to his majestic offensive upside.

Draft Range: 6-12 overall

The Tigers are very likely the floor for Jung’s draft range, and he could go to any number of teams ahead of Detroit. The buzz around the Miami Marlin’s draft approach is that they want to snag a quick-to-the-majors player, and could feasibly prioritize Jung’s advanced approach and fast track him. The Minnesota Twins have long prioritized college power hitters in their draft approach, and there’s no particular reason to believe a change in impending. Maxfield called out Kansas City as a potential location for Jung, noting their recent emphasis on high-floor players in early rounds.

Thank you to RC Maxfield for contributing to our draft coverage! Be sure to follow him on Twitter at @RCMB323 to keep an eye on his draft coverage this upcoming Sunday.

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